Scientists and our opinions

This post follows on from a recent post by Grant Jacobs (Scientists on TV: referees of evidence or expert’s opinion?) and associated comments.

In my opinion, if an expert is presenting information to a court, the court setting doesn’t matter, the manner in which the scientific findings are presented should be the same, regardless of the forensic setting – reproducibility, reliability, impartiality, duty to the court not to those instructing, not having an opinion on the Ultimate Issue (guilt, innocence or other final outcome to be decided by the Trier of Fact and no-one else). The things that distinguish how findings are presented are the rules that relate to individual courts. As a guide, the High Court Code of Conduct for Expert Witnesses is the minimum I would expect of any consultant I used, regardless of the court – these Rules relate to the NZ High Court. (I have previously written about the differences between scientific findings and evidence).

The UK has the most advanced set of procedures that I have encountered to-date – and, having worked with them for some years, I believe they are excellent. Civil procedures are covered by Criminal Procedure Rules (CPR) Part 35 and Part 35 Practice Direction. Criminal procedures are covered by the Criminal Procedure Rules (CrPR) Part 33. These detail how to write reports, how the court should treat Experts, how the court system should work and what the Expert can expect, to name but a few. It seems very regimented but it is designed to create and maintain consistency in standards.

Once the scientist/expert is familiar with the CPR Part 35 and CrPR Part 33, it makes life much, much easier. It allows the courts to believe the findings more easily because before the findings can even make it into court they’ve been through a rigorous checking procedure, as has the Expert.  Having experience giving evidence helps as well of course – the more experience, the better (although that doesn’t meant it’ll get easier with time – it doesn’t).

So, in conclusion, if a scientist can learn to use these tools of procedure for casework and preparation of reports, maintaining control of an interview should seem much easier!  Although, lest we forget, there are no rules for interviews….

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