Top judge doubts expert witnesses

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One of the country's top judges has warned against placing too much faith in the evidence of so-called expert witnesses.

Lord Justice Leveson, the judge in charge of sentencing, said anyone with a basic scientific background and enough confidence could pass themselves off as a forensic science expert and get away with giving "positively misleading" evidence in court.

While the use of experts was now commonplace, there was a real danger that evidence may be taken to be reliable just because it was believed to be "scientific", he said in a speech to the Forensic Science Society.

"In the United Kingdom there has traditionally been no system of accreditation or regulation of forensic scientists," said the Sentencing Council chairman. "The dangers of this lacuna are obvious.

"Theoretically, anyone with any sort of scientific background and sufficient personal confidence, perhaps less politely described as brass neck, or who was sufficiently misguided, could set themselves up as a forensic science expert and produce evidence that, at best, is unhelpful and, at worst, positively misleading. Nobody would necessarily be the wiser."

He added: "Effective control over, and management of, expert evidence by the judge is of paramount importance in the context of any scheme relating to admissibility and identification of issues."

Lord Justice Leveson also warned that it was possible that "a jury may simply defer to the knowledge and opinion expressed by a convincing expert when considering how to resolve the issues in dispute".

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