The president of the Supreme Court, Lord Neuberger, has called on experts to desist from a needless challenging of the detail of scientific fact in court cases. Instead, he has suggested the use of ‘primers’ on various scientific topics to lay out general principles which are not under dispute.
Writing in the scientific journal Nature, Lord Neuberger said: “Testimony from expert witnesses – and I have heard a lot in my career as a judge – is a long-standing and important feature of legal proceedings. The scientists, engineers, inventors and technologists who offer their opinions in court are encouraged to agree on basic points before a trial begins. But they often do not agree as much as we hope. That tends to lengthen the time taken to cross-examine them and contributes to justice being an expensive, drawn-out and stressful experience for all involved.”
He suggests that primers would help both judges and the justice system. They are, he said, used in patent disputes.
“Both sides allow their expert witnesses jointly to present points on which they agree, and which will not be disputed. This effectively sets a baseline for the ensuing arguments, which can still diverge significantly.”
He conceded that such documents would not be appropriate for all cases but cited examples, such as forensic science, DNA profiling and computer forensics, where general principles could be set out.
The main benefit would be in the savings in time and expense they could produce.
• The article appeared in the 3 March issue of Nature at www.nature.com/news/.