Feeds

Science too hard for juries

Judges seem to be struggling too

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

Top three mobile application threats

A group of British MPs has called for juries to be dropped from trials involving complicated scientific evidence. The Commons select committee on science and technology argues that jury members are often unable to evaluate this kind of testimony, and can be swayed by the charisma of the witness.

It says that the effect of a witness' personality on the credibility of his evidence is widely acknowledged as a problem by the police, witnesses, prosecutors and judges, The Guardian reports. It blames a complacency within the Crown Prosecution Service, which it criticised for failing to tackle the issue.

It also called for a system to be established that could validate scientific testimony before it is presented in court. It recommends establishing a Forensic Science Advisory Council to do just this.

In their recommendation, the MPs note: "If key players in the criminal justice system, including the police and experienced expert witnesses, do not have faith in a jury's ability to distinguish between the strength of evidence and the personality of the expert witness presenting it, it is hard to see why anyone else should."

But the jury is not the only group that fails to understand the evidence presented by expert witness, the committee found. It cited the case of Manchester solicitor Sally Clark, who in 1999 was convicted of murdering two of her babies. In 2003, the conviction was quashed, upon her second appeal.

In her case, paediatrician Professor Sir Roy Meadow testified that the odds of two cot deaths occurring in a family like Clark's was 73m to one, despite the fact that he was not a statistical expert. During the first appeal, the court refused to hear testimony from a statistician because it was "hardly rocket science".

The committee also argued that the ban on research into jury deliberations should be lifted so that experts can investigate how juries deal with scientific evidence.

This is not the first time the possibility of trials-without-jury has been raised: the collapse last week of a £60m corruption case has led to calls for judges to hear complex fraud cases without a jury. ®

Related stories

Scientists complain of industrial meddling in research
Business school 'hack' raises ethical questions
Hollywood brow-beats second BitTorrent Brit

High performance access to file storage

More from The Register

next story
KILLER SPONGES menacing California coastline
Surfers are safe, crustaceans less so
LOHAN and the amazing technicolor spaceplane
Our Vulture 2 livery is wrapped, and it's les noix du mutt
Liftoff! SpaceX Falcon 9 lifts Dragon on third resupply mission to ISS
SpaceX snaps smartly into one-second launch window
KILLER ROBOTS, DNA TAMPERING and PEEPING CYBORGS: the future looks bright!
Americans optimistic about technology despite being afraid of EVERYTHING
R.I.P. LADEE: Probe smashes into lunar surface at 3,600mph
Swan dive signs off successful science mission
Discovery time for 200m WONDER MATERIALS shaved from 4 MILLENNIA... to 4 years
Alloy, Alloy: Boffins in speed-classification breakthrough
Elon Musk's LEAKY THRUSTER gas stalls Space Station supply run
Helium seeps from Falcon 9 first stage, delays new legs for NASA robonaut
prev story

Whitepapers

SANS - Survey on application security programs
In this whitepaper learn about the state of application security programs and practices of 488 surveyed respondents, and discover how mature and effective these programs are.
Combat fraud and increase customer satisfaction
Based on their experience using HP ArcSight Enterprise Security Manager for IT security operations, Finansbank moved to HP ArcSight ESM for fraud management.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Top three mobile application threats
Learn about three of the top mobile application security threats facing businesses today and recommendations on how to mitigate the risk.
3 Big data security analytics techniques
Applying these Big Data security analytics techniques can help you make your business safer by detecting attacks early, before significant damage is done.