Feeds

Science too hard for juries

Judges seem to be struggling too

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

Beginner's guide to SSL certificates

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

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

More from The Register

next story
GRAV WAVE DRAMA: 'Big Bang echo' may have been grit on the scanner – boffins
Exit Planet Dust on faster-than-light expansion of universe
SpaceX Dragon cargo truck flies 3D printer to ISS: Clawdown in 3, 2...
Craft berths at space station with supplies, experiments, toys
That glass of water you just drank? It was OLDER than the SUN
One MEELLION years older. Some of it anyway
Big dinosaur wowed females with its ENORMOUS HOOTER
That's right, Doris, I've got biggest snout in the prehistoric world
Japanese volcano eruption reportedly leaves 31 people presumed dead
Hopes fade of finding survivors on Mount Ontake
Relive the death of Earth over and over again in Extinction Game
Apocalypse now, and tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that ...
prev story

Whitepapers

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk
A single remote control platform for user support is be key to providing an efficient helpdesk. Retain full control over the way in which screen and keystroke data is transmitted.
Intelligent flash storage arrays
Tegile Intelligent Storage Arrays with IntelliFlash helps IT boost storage utilization and effciency while delivering unmatched storage savings and performance.
Beginner's guide to SSL certificates
De-mystify the technology involved and give you the information you need to make the best decision when considering your online security options.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.
Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops
Balancing user privacy and privileged access, in accordance with compliance frameworks and legislation. Evaluating any potential remote control choice.