Bench mark

As a forensic computer analyst for a police hi-tech crime unit, I try to follow the news in related forensic fields, so I very much enjoyed the article ‘Print Pioneer’ (Interview, 24 July) about Sir Alec Jeffreys and DNA profiling.

One point in particular that caught my attention was Sir Alec’s comment about the treatment of DNA evidence by the courts — while it may be well presented by the prosecution, juries are being expected to make critical decisions based on some very complex science. This is also true of cases hinging on computer evidence, and I was reassured that the issue was raised by such a respected person as Sir Alec.

Unfortunately, we only have a limited amount of control over the presentation of our evidence. So a barrister may not have fully understood evidence and so paint an unclear picture to the court, or a jury may be left in the dark because it is difficult to interrupt a trial to say ‘hang on, can you just expand on that?’.

To be fair, judges generally seem to have no qualms about having something explained to them until both they and the expert are happy they have understood it.

In the light of this I feel that Sir Alec’s suggestion of technical courts sitting to agree scientific evidence is a very sensible and necessary one — not just for scientific evidence, but also in complex frauds and similar cases. Time would be saved, and surely the cause of justice would be better served by having complex technical issues decided by those qualified to do so — from both sides of the court — rather than by conscripted laymen.

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