Crackdown on expert witnesses

Judges given new power to test credibility of specialists who testify in court cases

Scientists, doctors and other experts are to be stopped from giving misleading evidence in court after a series of miscarriages of justice involving unreliable testimony, under proposals published today.

Tough new rules will give judges greater powers to test the credibility of experts and, where necessary, exclude their evidence from juries.

The move follows a number of high-profile cases in which expert evidence has led to the wrongful conviction of innocent people.

Under proposals published by the Government's law advisory body, judges would have a "gate-keeping" role to stop "untrustworthy" evidence being heard in court.

The most troubling case in recent years was that of solicitor Sally Clark who was convicted of murdering her two infant sons after a jury heard that the chances of the babies dying natural deaths was one in 73 million.

That statistic was later shown to have "grossly" misrepresented the chance of two sudden deaths within the same family from unexplained but natural causes. Sally Clark had her convictions quashed by the Court of Appeal in 2003 but never recovered from her ordeal and was found dead at her home in 2007

The Law Commission of England and Wales, which publishes its consultation paper today, sets out a number of preliminary proposals to prevent a repeat of cases like that of Sally Clark.

The commissioners say: "More worrying still, it may be that the examples given represent the tip of a larger iceberg. It has been said that much other forensic scientific evidence relied on in criminal proceedings has not been properly validated, which suggests there is at least a significant risk that some evidence is not sufficiently reliable to be admitted."

They point to "several recent cases" which suggest there is a real, ongoing problem which demands an urgent solution: "It would appear expert evidence is sometimes admitted too readily and that, notwithstanding a number of successful and highly publicised appeals concerning the reliability of expert opinion evidence, there continues to be a pressing danger of wrongful convictions."

Some so-called experts have also turned out to be acting fraudulently.

Notorious examples of fraudulent "expert" witnesses who have been convicted in recent years include Godwin Onubogu (a bogus medical doctor, convicted in 1998), Barian Baluchi (a bogus psychiatrist, convicted in 2005) and Gene Morrison (a bogus psychologist, convicted in 2007).

Professor Jeremy Horder, the commissioner leading the project, said: "The parties in criminal trials are relying increasingly on the evidence of expert witnesses. Expert evidence, particularly scientific evidence, can have a very persuasive effect on juries.

"It is vital that such evidence should be used only if it provides a sound basis for determining a defendant's guilt or innocence.

"There have been miscarriages of justice in recent years where prosecution expert evidence of doubtful reliability has been placed before Crown Court juries.

"There may also have been unwarranted acquittals attributable to such evidence. We want to ensure the criminal courts have the means to authenticate expert evidence and be satisfied the information before them is sound."

One of the Law Commission's suggestions, although not a formal proposal, is for a court-appointed assessor to help the judge establish the reliability of and credibility of the expert testimony.

Another would see the establishment of a regulatory framework for expert witnesses.

Arts and Entertainment
Characters in the new series are based on real people, say its creators, unlike Arya and Clegane the Dog in ‘Game of Thrones’
tv'The Last Kingdom' embraces politics, religion, warfare, courage, love and loyalty, say creators
Sport
Sergio Romero saves Wesley Sneijder's penalty
world cup 2014But after defeating the Dutch, Lionel Messi and Argentina will walk out at the Maracana on Sunday as underdogs against Germany
Sport
Scoreboard at the end of the semi-final World Cup match between Brazil and Germany at The Mineirao Stadium in Belo Horizonte
Sport
'Saddest man in Brazil' takes defeat with good grace, handing replica trophy to German fans
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
peopleThe Game of Thrones author said speculation about his health and death was 'offensive'
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman and Lauren O'Neil in Jamie Lloyd's Richard III
theatreReview: The monarch's malign magnetism and diabolic effrontery aren’t felt
News
Glamour magazine hosts a yoga class with Yogalosophy author Mandy Ingber on June 10, 2013 in New York City.
newsFather Padraig O'Baoill said the exercise was 'unsavoury' in a weekly parish newsletter
Extras
indybest
News
people'She is unstoppable', says Jean Paul Gaultier at Paris show
Sport
Alexis Sanchez and apparently his barber Carlos Moles in Barcelona today
football
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has her magic LSD brain stolen in this crazy video produced with The Flaming Lips
video
Arts and Entertainment
In his own words: Oscar Wilde in 1882
theatreNew play by the Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials - and what they reveal about the man
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Unless films such as Guardians of the Galaxy, pictured, can buck the trend, this summer could be the first in 13 years that not a single Hollywood blockbuster takes $300m
filmWith US films earning record-breaking amounts at the Chinese box office, Hollywood is more than happy to take its lead from its new-found Asian audience
News
The garage was up for sale in Canning Place Mews for £500,000
newsGarage for sale for £500,000
Life and Style
tech
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Mobile App/IOS Developer (C#, ASP.NET, .NET, MVC)

£50000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Mobile App/IOS...

Front End Developer-JavaScript, Angular J.S, HTML, CSS, ASP.NET

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Front End Deve...

Associate CXL Consultant

£40000 - £60000 per annum + BONUS + BENEFITS: Harrington Starr: CXL, Triple Po...

Associate CXL Consultant

£40000 - £60000 per annum + BONUS + BENEFITS: Harrington Starr: CXL, Triple Po...

Day In a Page

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice
Hollywood targets Asian audiences as US films enjoy record-breaking run at Chinese box office

Hollywood targets Asian audiences

The world's second biggest movie market is fast becoming the Hollywood studios' most crucial
Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app - and my mum keeps trying to hook me up!'

Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app'

Five years on from its launch and Grindr is the world's most popular dating app for gay men. Its founder Joel Simkhai answers his critics, describes his isolation as a child
Autocorrect has its uses but it can go rogue with embarrassing results - so is it time to ditch it?

Is it time to ditch autocorrect?

Matthew J X Malady persuaded friends to message manually instead, but failed to factor in fat fingers and drunk texting
10 best girls' summer dresses

Frock chick: 10 best girls' summer dresses

Get them ready for the holidays with these cool and pretty options 
Westminster’s dark secret: Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together

Westminster’s dark secret

Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Dulce et decorum est - a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Dulce et decorum est: a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality
Google tells popular music website to censor album cover art in 'sexually explicit content' ban

Naked censorship?

The strange case of Google, the music website and the nudity take-down requests
Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

As England take on India at Trent Bridge, here is our pick of the high-performing bats to help you up your run-count this summer 
Brazil vs Germany World Cup 2014 comment: David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

Captain appears to give up as shocking 7-1 World Cup semi-final defeat threatens ramifications in Brazil