Expert evidence in criminal proceedings
The Law Commission publishes its recommendation on expert
evidence in criminal proceedings in England and Wales
The final recommendations from the Law Commission, together with a draft Criminal Evidence (Experts) Bill, are set out in the report published on
22 March 2011, Expert Evidence in Criminal Proceedings in England and Wales (Law Com No 325). In the report, the Law Commission formally recommends that there should be a new reliability-based admissibility test for expert evidence in criminal proceedings. The test would not need to be applied routinely or unnecessarily, but it would be applied in appropriate cases and it would result in the exclusion of unreliable expert opinion evidence. Under the test, expert opinion evidence would not be admitted unless it was adjudged to be sufficiently reliable to go before a jury. It is the belief of the Law Commission that this means juries would be less likely to reach their conclusions on unreliable evidence and there would be fewer miscarriages of justice, which would result in greater public confidence in the criminal justice system.
This has been an important piece of work that the Law Commission has, characteristically, taken time and trouble over to try and arrive at final recommendations that are clear in purpose and likely to achieve the desired results in practice. The Law Commission consulted widely during the project and was seen to be responsive to the concerns raised by those who engaged in the process. The outcome of all this care and attention is a set of recommendations that has broad support amongst judges, lawyers and expert witnesses. We will, however, have to be a bit more patient yet. If you thought it took the Law Commission a long time to get its report out, just wait to see how long it takes the politicians to get round to implementing the recommendations!