Skip to content

Science and the law

The Science and the law programme has been running since 2014. It brings together scientists and members of the judiciary to discuss and debate key areas of common interest and to ensure that the best scientific guidance is available to the courts. 

Justice scales
© Vladstudioraw

Primers for courts

The judicial primers project is a unique collaboration between members of the judiciary, the Royal Society and the Royal Society of Edinburgh. Designed to assist the judiciary when handling scientific evidence in the courtroom, the primers have been written by leading scientists, peer reviewed by scientists and legal practitioners, and approved by the Councils of the Royal Society and the Royal Society of Edinburgh.

Each judicial primer presents an easily understood and accurate position on a scientific topic relevant to the courts. It outlines and clarifies the science underpinning the topic, highlighting its limitations and the challenges associated with its application in a judicial context. Each primer is created under the direction of a Steering Group, chaired by Dame Anne Rafferty DBE PC, and is distributed to courts in conjunction with the Judicial College, the Judicial Institute, and the Judicial Studies Board for Northern Ireland. Two of the primers have been translated into Arabic.

The full list of published primers can be downloaded on this page. If you have suggestions for further topics in the primer series, please contact law@royalsociety.org.

Primers Steering Group:

  • Dame Anne Rafferty DBE
  • Lord Hughes of Ombersley
  • Professor Dame Sue Black DBE FRSE
  • Sir Charles Godfray CBE FRS
  • Lord Justice Peter Jackson
  • Dr Julie Maxton CBE
  • Professor Dame Angela McLean DBE FRS
  • Professor Niamh Nic Daéid FRSE
  • Professor Sarah Skerratt
  • Lord Beckett
  • Mr Justice Wall
  • Lord Weir
  • Mrs Justice Yip

Judicial training

We have held a series of regional lectures in in partnership with the Judicial College as part of their professional development programme. These have included:

  • Fact and Fiction in Brain Imaging hosted by Professor Raymond Dolan FMedSci FRS
  • What makes decisions autonomous hosted by Dr Steve Fleming 
  • DNA and the law hosted by Professor Gilean McVean FMedSci FRS

Since 2016 we have partnered with the Judicial College to run Continuing Professional Development training for Circuit Judges and Recorders as part of the Judicial College criminal and family training prospectus. To date we have delivered the following seminars:

  • Probability and the Law led by Sir David Spiegelhalter OBE FRS
  • Substance addiction and the brain led by Professor Barry Everitt FMedSci FRS 
  • Memory led by Professor Richard Morris CBE FMedSci FRS
  • Probability and the Law led by Professor Philip Dawid FRS

Seminar series

There are typically two to three seminars per year. Designed for senior judges, each seminar focuses on a scientific topic that is encountered in the courts on a regular basis or is anticipated to underpin an increasing number of cases in the coming years. Seminars typically consist of two presentations, one from a senior member of the judiciary and another from an eminent scientist, followed by a chaired discussion. There have been 14 seminars to date, with the next two to be on disorders of consciousness and climate change later this year.

The seminar series is overseen by a steering committee comprising Professor Raymond Dolan FMedSci FRS, Dame Anne Rafferty DBE, Lord Hughes of Ombersley, Dr Julie Maxton CBE.

Was this page useful?
Thank you for your feedback
Thank you for your feedback. Please help us improve this page by taking our short survey.