Can I get a witness?

May 19, 2000

Money for old muck bags

A row over a bag of manure led to a lucrative expert witness commission for the University of Leeds' colour chemistry analytical services division.

After six years of research, beginning in 1993, the unit succeeded in discovering why the ink was rubbing off a prestigious packaging firm's manure bags. The firm saved millions of pounds when the university's research revealed that an ink manufacturer had been negligent in claiming that its inks were suitable for the polymer bags.

"It's laughable really," says Leeds University's Algy Kazlauciunas. "But it shows that wherever there is colour - in packaging, textiles, photographic imaging and publishing - there is a legal case waiting for us."

Kazlauciunas's unit makes its money almost exclusively from industry. It has worked closely with the University of Leeds Innovations (Ulis) and expert witness division since the 1980s.

"We are a bit different from most places," Kazlauciunas says. "We are much more professional and we have been able to change with the times. I am employed by Leeds University as a lecturer and we run many undergraduate and postgraduate courses, but our major income is from our commercial work. The money pays for equipment, which helps research and teaching.

"The classic case for us involves packaging," he says. "With some quality products, the packaging is expensive to produce, and if it is not up to scratch and is rejected, someone could lose an awful lot of money if they get the blame."

For a fee, Kazlauciunas can tell you whose fault it was.

Bona fide experts

* The Expert Witness Institute, a commercial organisation, has about 1,000 members -more than 35 per cent medical academics - all of whom must have proven track records and references from solicitors and barristers to become members. * Forensic scientists have set up the Registration Council for Forensic Practitioners - to give independent endorsement of the competence of expert witnesses. * The Law Society's Directory of Expert Witnesses lists more than 3,500 witnesses, who must have at least two professional references to be included. Among them, they can offer expert opinions on almost 2,000 different subjects.

Society of Expert Witnesses:

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