23 January 2007

Tonight Programme on ITV

An excellent programme went out on Monday evening highlighting the fact that many jurors are too heavily influenced by the evidence given at trials by expert witnesses.  They showed how the recent surge in crime series' on TV, like CSI, affects the way viewers identify with forensic evidence. Forensic science has led to huge progress in solving crime and can be a very useful tool, but there is a risk that unrealistic portrayals in TV detective programmes seduce the public into believing it to be foolproof? There are growing concerns within legal circles that jurors' faith in forensic evidence can lead to miscarriages of justice. Indeed recent successful appeals are proof of this. So often the expert witness goes beyond his or her remit and neglect to tell the jury that the science is not exact. Because the jury are influenced by the qualifications spelt out before the evidence is given, they can be both baffled by the evidence and truly believe the expert to be telling the whole truth. Mere opinions are not good enough when a persons liberty is at stake!!

2 Comments:

Blogger Alan said...

Dear Susan,

I quite agree with your appraisal. I seem to remember that there was a case in Scotland (Shirley McKie?) where even the fingerprint evidence was wrong. I don't remember the details.

However, as you say, the biggest problem seems to be with experts who make a tremendous impression on the jury, such as in the case of Professor Meadows with his 73 million to one odds, in spite of his not being a statistician. (How come MSbP is still taken seriously?)

Since forensic evidence is so convincing, there must also be a tremendous temptation to "plant" it too. One would hope this doesn't happen, but I'm not counting on it.

To finish on a positive note, as an indirectly related issue, I came across the following article in the guardian. It seems that the director of public prosecutions is standing up to the government about respect for fair trials and the due process of law.

The Guardian article is here.

7:04 pm  
Anonymous Nigel said...

It was Jacqui Cameron, (a member of Angela Cannings' defence team) who stated that Meadow made great play with his 'experience', and doubtless that and the long list of qualifications he had played its part in influencing the jury to find Angela guilty (the weight of evidence on her side and the lack of evidence for the Crown's case notwithstanding).

But then, Meadow went on to give evidence against Trupti Patel at her own trial for the alleged killing of her 3 babies. He ran up against someone who also had experience - in the shape of Trupti's grandmother Surajben. Even though I only saw her briefly on the BBC TV News, I've not forgotten this slight wizened figure in a flowing white Sari - a picture of dignity itself. Illiterate as she was, Surajben gave the answer to the question put to her, of why 5 of her own children had died so suddenly after giving birth: "...that is something God takes care of - we leave these things to God". As we know, the jury took only 1½ hours to clear Trupti of all 3 charges.

But was this a case of the jury doing the right thing for the wrong reason? Was the question of guilt or innocence reduced to a 'personality contest' between witnesses? The reforms outlined earlier in this blog (jurors giving written reasons for their decisions, minutes taken of the jury's deliberations, etc.) are made all the more necessary, in order that questions of guilt or innocence rest on the evidence alone.

11:16 am  

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