Legal technicality

Engineers can learn how to give evidence in court and about their legal responsibilities at work with a specially tailored course. Anh Nguyen reports.

Engineers looking to expand their legal expertise can gain a new qualification by taking part in a tailored course offered by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE).

‘An Engineer in Court’ is a series of seminars and courses provided by IMechE and Bond Solon, a UK legal training consultancy for non-lawyers. The aim is to provide engineers in all industries with key advice about their roles and duties in relation to the law.

‘The idea came about two years ago when several of our people felt that their professional development did not include legal responsibilities,’ said John Ling, head of transport at IMechE.

‘There have been various court cases where our people were quite vulnerable because they had not kept accurate records of what had happened in their business.’

The programme comprises four two-day modules of case studies and role-play covering legal evidence procedure and best practice, advanced statement report writing and giving evidence, advanced investigative interviewing and alternative dispute resolution. In particular, the course emphasises the need for accurate record keeping and establishing a sound factual basis for decisions.

By successfully completing all eight days of training and associated assessments engineers are then qualified for the Advanced Professional Certificate in Investigative Practice at BTEC level seven, which is accredited by the exam board Edexcel.

‘What they gain is the knowledge and skills to carry out their day job effectively,’ said Penny Harper, a solicitor at Bond Solon.

‘It is also part of effective risk management because in gaining the qualification, they have put themselves in a much better position in terms of understanding what their obligations are and so it tends to give them a lot more confidence.’

The programme also aims to give engineers greater confidence if they are called to give expert witness evidence in court.

‘Let’s say for instance, there is a claim saying that a bridge was constructed in a particular way that was negligent. Engineers would be called as expert witnesses and they would be asked to go and look at the facts then give their opinion as to why the bridge failed, for example,’ said Harper.

The courses are designed for a range of engineers, including those aspiring to be managers and those already in supervisory roles. ‘We have had directors of big blue-chip companies but the people most at risk are the smaller companies because they do not have the benefit of having a legal department. Therefore they need to be aware of their legal responsibilities,’ said Ling.