National academies and the law collaborate to provide better understanding of science to the courts

11 April 2016

The Lord Chief Justice, The Royal Society and Royal Society of Edinburgh today (11 April 2016) announce the launch of a project to develop a series of guides or ‘primers’ on scientific topics which is designed to assist the judiciary, legal teams and juries when handling scientific evidence in the courtroom. The first primer document to be developed will cover DNA analysis. 

The purpose of the primer documents is to present, in plain English, an easily understood and accurate position on the scientific topic in question. The primers will also cover the limitations of the science, challenges associated with its application and an explanation of how the scientific area is used within the judicial system. An editorial board, drawn from the judicial and scientific communities, will develop each individual primer. Before publication, the primers will be peer reviewed by practitioners, including forensic scientists and the judiciary, as well as the public.

Lord Thomas, Lord Chief Justice for England and Wales says, “The launch of this project is the realisation of an idea the judiciary has been seeking to achieve.  The involvement of the Royal Society and Royal Society of Edinburgh will ensure scientific rigour and I look forward to watching primers develop under the stewardship of leading experts in the fields of law and science.”

Dr Julie Maxton, Executive Director of the Royal Society, says, “This project had its beginnings in our 2011 Brain Waves report on Neuroscience and the Law, which highlighted the lack of a forum in the UK for scientists, lawyers and judges to explore areas of mutual interest. We are very pleased to be building on this piece of work and playing a leading role in bringing together scientists and the judiciary throughout the UK to ensure that we get the best possible scientific guidance into the courts – rigorous, accessible science matters to the justice system and society.”

Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell, President of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, says, “As a national academy with a breadth of expertise that covers both science and the law, the Royal Society of Edinburgh is delighted that highly experienced Fellows, such as Professors Sue Black and Niamh Nic Daeid from the University of Dundee, are much involved in this joint project.”

In addition to the primers project, The Royal Society, in partnership with the Judicial College, is hosting a series of seminars on relevant scientific topics, such as memory in testimony, probability and mental capacity, for senior judges. The Royal Society is also working to develop a permanent fixture on the Judicial College training calendar.