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Report: Court Experts in Poland

“The status of court experts, and in particular the rules governing the review of their skills and competences, should be set out in statute”, concludes the report “Court Experts in Poland” launched during a press conference held in the headquarters of the Polish Business Roundtable.

The document has been drafted as a joint initiative of the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights and the Polish Business Roundtable. The report explores a range of subjects, including the legal standing of court experts and practice of their appointment.

“In court proceedings, court-appointed experts play a role which is significant enough to be governed by detailed statutory regulation. The current legal framework on court experts is fragmented and incomplete”, says Marcin Wolny, a co-author of the report.

The draft premises of the new law on court experts, adopted by the Council of Ministers in March 2014, present only a partial solution to the problem. Regretfully, the draft fails to introduce a system of fees for experts’ work, now awarded under a regulation of the Justice Minister.

“We need to set up a financial framework to ensure that the specialists, both individuals and institutions, are incentivised to become court experts”, says Artur Pietryka, advocate and one of the authors.

The report argues that the key measure to guarantee the highest professional standards of court experts’ work is a system of efficient supervision, especially by presidents of higher instance courts. Currently, with heads of higher courts having no remedies to verify the professional skills of prospective experts, the absence of robust supervision mechanisms is the biggest issue related to court experts’ involvement in the justice system.

Apart from private individuals operating as court-appointed experts, a crucial role is played by scientific or specialist institutions which are from time to time requested to prepare opinions in justice proceedings. This is the task of such state-operated establishments as the Professor Jan Sehn Institute of Forensic Research or the Central Forensic Laboratory of the Police, as well as a number of private institutions. According to the experiences of law enforcement authorities the latter sometimes lack the proper human or technical resources. This issue is to be addressed in the new draft law as well.

Still, it appears that further problems are caused by the very practice of appointing experts by courts or the prosecution service. In some instances, expert opinions are used too often: in Worwa v. Poland, expert psychiatrists evaluated the applicant five times in order to decide whether or not she was legally sane. Another bad practice is that justice bodies do not communicate with experts on the questions asked which often causes a need to obtain further supplementary opinions.

“Court Experts in Poland” is the second report jointly launched by the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights and the Polish Business Roundtable. The first report, “Non-custodial Preventive Measures”, was published in November 2011.

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