For those who could not make it, and for those wishing to follow up on the talks, we have compiled brief summaries and lists of the authorities the speakers relied on.
You may be especially interested in this article that was mentioned during the open discussion: Gary Edmond et al, ‘How to cross-examine forensic scientists: A guide for lawyers’ (2016) 39 Australian Bar Review. [PDF]
Emma Cunliffe - ‘Evaluating Forensic Medicine’
Emma discussed expert evidence in the form of forensic medicine and the challenges it poses to the legal system. In particular, forensic pathologists have often made strong claims that, if taken at face value, can be very prejudicial at trial. They are also susceptible to heuristics (i.e., mental shortcuts that may produce inaccurate results) and biases (i.e., error in a predictable direction) due to the adversarial forces they are exposed to. Further, performance at trial is a poor form of feedback for the experts. They may often never learn if they were right or wrong and may get a false sense of confidence from participating in the trial and seeing their evidence accepted.
Emma’s slides can be found here.
Emma Cunliffe, Murder, Medicine and Motherhood (Hart, 2011)
Rachel Dioso-Villa, ‘Detective and Scientist: Unpacking fire Investigation and Its Application in the Courtroom
Rachel discussed the fire investigation evidence that is often admitted as expert evidence. This evidence raises a host of issues because the putative experts also wear the hat of investigator, and thus are deeply involved in the case. Moreover, several methods for determining the cause of a fire have not been systematically studied or validated.
I noticed a common theme between the two talks was the danger of an absence of evidence serving as positive evidence. In forensic medical cases, this may be the expert never having seen three natural infant deaths in the same family and concluding something sinister must have happened. A similar thing happens with “negative corpus” evidence in fire cases, in which the expert cannot come up with a natural cause. The trouble seems to be that we often don’t know what we don’t know - how can you be confident you’ve eliminated possible causes that you may have never thought of?
Rachel’s slides can be found here.
I would also like to apologize for the technical difficulties. We failed to notify the court’s booking team that we would need AV support. The fault is solely with us.