Do we the public suffer abuse at the hands of the Experts?

To find out whether we are abused by the experts, take a look at most cases where someone is acquitted on appeal of murder and child abuse to name just two areas where convictions are quashed. Almost without exception the conviction was based on ‘Expert Witness’ testimony.

In most cases that Testimony was the only ‘evidence’ offered by the prosecution and in many cases that ‘evidence’ is either unclear or opinion is divided.

This problem is now so endemic in our justice system that the independent law reform body – The Law Commission – have issued a consultation paper suggesting reforms on how we accept Expert Testimony.

This has serious implications for people convicted wholly on ‘Expert Testimony’. In the case of Ben Roberts for example, convicted of serious crimes against a child, based on nothing more than Expert Testimony – especially as that testimony, in fact, related to whether a crime had been committed and not who had committed it.

To understand the seriousness of this case and the consequences to you or someone you love, you have to appreciate the following. If you are in the company of a child who shows evidence of injury but where the day and time of that injury is believed to have occurred anytime within a 14 day period, yet where there is no evidence of who may have injured the child, your presence alone is enough to convict you!

Does that seem outrageous to you? Let me repeat that. If you are present at any time during that 14 day period and the police decide you are a likely candidate then your presence alone seems to be enough to convict you.

The CPS and Police will of course deny this because the police are under a great deal of pressure to reach ‘conviction targets’ and the CPS work hand in glove with the police – even though they should be totally separate. They will offer ‘Expert Testimony’ as evidence; that is as hard undeniable facts when in truth that ‘Expert Testimony’ is merely opinion.

As we all know, even the best medical experts can and do make mistakes. After all, they are being asked for their opinion on something and even though their opinion is based on specialist knowledge and experience they cannot possibly know everything! Unless that is of course they consider themselves as infallible as God.

In the case of Ben Roberts the ‘Expert Witnesses’ testimony was all circumstantial with all opinions divided as to how the actual injuries occurred. That is, opinion was divided as to whether the injuries were conclusively proved to have been caused deliberately. None of the experts gave testimony that indicated Ben Roberts was in any way involved. Yet the prosecution presented that ‘opinion’ as “fact” and insisted that the correct interpretation of that evidence showed clearly the guilt of the defendant.

Surprisingly though, none of those experts mentioned the defendant at all. Their areas of contention were solely based on how the injuries were caused. Some experts admitted that they could not definitively state exactly how the injuries were caused, then giving an opinion as to the most likely but not only cause. Other experts stated their opinion as undeniable fact, with no room for doubt – but still not indicating that the defendant was the cause of those injuries.

So the prosecution presented no eye witness testimony, no confession and no forensic evidence This is where the danger to us all lies.

A TimesOnline article quotes the following:

“Police forensic scientist Peter Ablett, who is now chief executive of the Council for the Registration of Forensic Practitioners, points out there are only three ways to prove a crime: a reliable eyewitness, a confession or forensics.”

See for the full article.

So how could the CPS and Police insist on a prosecution where there is no ‘proof’ of a person’s guilt? Is this where we the public are abused by the people in positions of authority? Those in whom we place our trust to provide a fair and just court system and impartial investigation of alleged offences, appear to be running amok in our system and bringing it down to the level of ‘might is right’ in a country run by dictators and military junta. Is this what we, the British public, want?

In another TimesOnline article Professor Graham Zellick, chairman of the Criminal Cases Review Commission was quoted   Experts, he added, were only expressing a view. “I am not sure that juries always completely understand that.”

See for the full article.

Let’s just look at how the CPS and Police interact. The police receive a complaint, investigate and then send details to the CPS who decide if a prosecution should go forward. They have guidelines they should abide by but they are, after all, only human and subject to biases and opinion just like the rest of us.

So, is it possible that the CPS can be persuaded by a particular police officer? If the CPS must, under their own guidelines, only bring cases where the evidence can be presented in a ‘clear and simple’ way, why would they bring a case to trial where none of the evidence points to the accused?

We now move into the murky waters of supposition and opinion.  However, we have to be careful with our suppositions and opinions because the full weight of the law could fall on us if we are deemed to be libellous or scandalous in our writings. Unfortunately for us the public, Expert Witnesses do not have to abide to abide by the same rules.

The author
Jacqui Cooper studies the psychology of decision making and teaches how to use this in sales and life.
She is particularly interested in the psychology of decision making in a jury. She is writing a book on this subject which it is hoped will give a more even playing field to those on legal aid.
You can email her if you have any questions.