Explaining and trusting expert evidence: What is a ‘sufficiently reliable scientific basis’?

Ward, Tony (2020) Explaining and trusting expert evidence: What is a ‘sufficiently reliable scientific basis’? The International Journal of Evidence & Proof, 24 (3). pp. 233-254. ISSN 1365-7127

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Official URL: https://doi.org/10.1177/1365712720927622


Through a series of judicial decisions and Practice Directions, the English courts have developed a rule that expert evidence must have ‘a sufficiently reliable scientific basis to be admitted’. There is a dearth of case-law as to what degree of reliability is ‘sufficient’. This article argues that the test should be interpreted as analogous to one developed in the law of hearsay: expert evidence (scientific or otherwise) must be ‘potentially safely reliable’ in the context of the evidence as a whole. The implications of this test will vary according to the relationship between the expert evidence and the other evidence in the case. The article identifies three main patterns into which this relationship falls. Whether the jury relies upon the evidence will depend upon what they regard as the best explanation of the evidence and how far they trust the expert. Whether their reliance is safe (as a basis for conviction) depends on whether they could rationally rule out explanations consistent with innocence, and whether the degree to which they take the expert’s evidence on trust is consistent with prosecution’s burden of proving the essential elements of its case, including the reliability of any scientific techniques on which it relies.

Item Type: Article
Uncontrolled Keywords: DNA evidence, England and Wales, epistemology of testimony, expert evidence, scientific evidence
Subjects: M100 Law by area
M900 Other in Law
Department: Faculties > Business and Law > Northumbria Law School
Depositing User: Rachel Branson
Date Deposited: 27 Apr 2020 14:30
Last Modified: 31 Jul 2021 13:01
URI: http://nrl.northumbria.ac.uk/id/eprint/42927

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