Short documents will help judges make sense of scientific evidence

A series of science primers has been produced to help UK judges deal with scientific evidence they might encounter in court, such as DNA analysis and car crash physics.

Supreme court judge Lord Hughes collaborated with the Royal Society and the Royal Society of Edinburgh to put together the 30 to 60 page documents. Written by experts in their field – the guide on DNA fingerprinting was edited, among others, by genetic analysis pioneer Alex Jeffreys from the University of Leicester – the primers are jargon-free introductions to the science behind a technique. Also covered are a technique’s limitations and challenges when it comes to interpreting results.

‘I’m confident [the primers] will enable a judge in advance of the hearing to read up on the science…and then ask the right questions,’ said criminal trials judge Mark Wall in an interview with BBC News.

Two primers are already available: DNA analysis and forensic gait analysis. The latter is a disputed method of identifying an individual from the way they are walking, currently lacking credible underpinning research. Further guides on statistics and vehicle collisions physics are planned.

However, topics that are currently subject to scientific debate – such as on how to identify the causes of abusive head trauma in ‘shaken’ babies – will not be covered until scientists have reached consensus.