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April 10th 2018

Civil Liberties

Expert witnesses stand in a very privileged position so when that position is abused, the search for justice is seriously hampered

Expert witnesses stand in a very privileged position so when that position is abused, the search for justice is seriously hampered

As Andrew Petherbridge in our Civil Liberties Team recently reported;

As Andrew Petherbridge in our Civil Liberties Team recently reported;

“The true scale of the Randox Testing Services forensic testing scandal is now beginning to emerge as more people are being contacted by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) to be told their convictions were not reliable.

Our team here at Hudgell Solicitors handling damages claims relating to inaccurate Randox results are being contacted by an increasing number of people as the investigation continues.”

The role of expert witnesses

Expert witnesses stand in the very privileged position of being able to provide Magistrates or the jury with opinion evidence on matters within their area of expertise and outside most Magistrates’ or jurors’ knowledge and experience

A lay bench of Magistrates or a jury, comprised as they are, of lay persons, may not realistically be fully equipped in terms of education or experience to be able to address the reliability of technical or complex expert opinion evidence, particularly evidence of a scientific nature.

This being the case, there is a real and very understandable danger that they may simply agree with the opinion of the specialist who has been called to provide expert evidence.

So in the case of Dallagher [2002] EWCA Crim 1903, [2005] 1 Cr App R 12. the Defendant’s conviction for murder was based on unreliable expert opinion evidence relating to the comparison of an ear-print made by the Defendant with a latent ear-print found on a window. At the trial, one of the experts gave evidence that he was “absolutely convinced” that the Defendant had left the latent print, and a second prosecution expert was also to say that there was only a “remote possibility” that the latent print had been left by someone else.

Notwithstanding the strength of these opinions, DNA evidence taken from the latent print subsequently established that it had not been left by the Defendant, so demonstrating the unreliable nature of the evidence used to secure his conviction.

The Defendant’s conviction was quashed (and a retrial ordered) before the DNA evidence became available.

Drug and drink driving offences

In charges relating to:

  • Driving or attempting to drive a mechanically propelled vehicle while unfit to drive through drink or drugs (s.4 (1) Road Traffic Act 1988) or
  • Being in charge of a mechanically propelled vehicle while unfit to drive through drink or drugs (s.4 (2) of the same Act)

Drivers can now be prosecuted if they drive with excessive levels of a relevant substance in their system without the need for the Prosecution to prove any level of impairment to driving. Effectively the expert evidence relating to the presence of a relevant drug in a person’s system above the specified limit is the determining factor whether a driver will be charged with an offence.

So the evidence of an expert in such cases assumes an even greater significance than is usually the case.

It is most concerning that the search for justice has been so seriously hampered in the cases we are now dealing with in our team.

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