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 court

Science in the interests of justice conference

This conference, organised in partnership with the US National Academy of Sciences, brought together leading scientists and prominent members of the legal community from the UK and USA to explore approaches used by courts in their consideration, evaluation, and management of scientific evidence and expert witnesses.

The event considered scientific evidence that appears in court today as well as emerging areas of science, including neuroscience, human enhancement and climate change attribution, that may appear in the courts in the coming years.

Careers in science and the law

The programme hosted a satellite event exploring the career opportunities within science and the law. Chaired by Dr Julie Maxton DBE (Chief Executive of the Royal Society), the workshop featured talks from scientists, professionals in the police force, and lawyers, highlighting the mobility between the two sectors and the pathway into their current careers.

The careers session was aimed at undergraduates and recent postgraduates, as well as sixth form students interested in a career in science or law.

Core programme activities

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 FRS
  • Sir Charles Godfray CBE FRS
  • Lord Justice Peter Jackson
  • Dame Julie Maxton DBE
  • 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 to be on electronic evidence in December.

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.