In cases where scientific data is being presented as evidence, an expert witness may be required to help the court understand it. Medical reports, psychological reports, cell site data and financial records help towards building a convincing case and enabling the court to make a decision in both criminal and family cases.
When the quality of expert evidence presented is subpar, the results can be catastrophic. In the criminal cases, mistakes could result in innocent people being convicted or offenders avoiding prosecution. The recent case of alleged manipulation of toxicology test results in two testing facilities in Manchester highlights the need for forensic evidence to be properly scrutinised and challenged where necessary.
The suspected tampering of data at these laboratories was brought to light after a data anomaly was reported in a drug-driving case in January 2017. This has since thrown 10,000 criminal cases and 34,000 family cases into question, and extensive retesting will now take place to verify whether any more cases have been affected by manipulation of forensic data.
Affected cases date back to 2010, and some of the older samples may no longer be available for retesting. 50 current cases that were due to go to trial have already been dropped as a result of doubts about the quality of the evidence. Many cases have already been referred to the Court of Appeal, and this could potentially mean many convictions will be overturned. The process of retesting is expected to take up to three years, and so the repercussions that this will have across the criminal justice system are not yet known.
The test results from the two affected laboratories have also been used as expert evidence in many family law cases. Toxicology samples provide evidence of a parent’s use of drugs and alcohol, and if the evidence is not subject to proper scrutiny, it could lead to incorrect decisions being made which cause distress to all parties involved. Minister of Policing Nick Hurd has attempted to reassure affected families by suggesting that it is unlikely that decisions regarding welfare of children will have been taken solely on the basis of toxicology test results. Forensic testing for the family court is not currently regulated as it is in the criminal system, prompting Forensic Science Regulator Gillian Tully to raise concerns about how this data is handled.
With forensic evidence being so important in helping the court to make the best decisions possible, this incident will undoubtedly affect public confidence in forensic science and the justice system as a whole. It highlights the need for forensic evidence to be scrutinised to ensure its quality and legitimacy. A huge investigation process will follow, and no doubt more cases will be referred to the Court of Appeal as the full details begin to emerge.
The Ministry of Justice has released an advice guide for anyone concerned that a case involving them may have been affected by potentially unreliable toxicology test results. If you encounter a case where unreliable evidence may have played a role, we can provide experts across all medical and forensic services through our national expert network.
Working inside LAA rates and filing reports quickly is a key service we offer our clients as well as acting as an extension of their offices and team. Kieran Galvin from Furnival Chambers said of our service, ‘I have been using Foresight for over a year now. They can provide an expert in almost any discipline and at short notice. They take all the heartache away from instructing experts. They are fast, efficient and reliable and the experts are invariably top drawer.’
We can help with any expert witness requirements you have, so contact us today and we will we will provide you with a selection of the best expert CVs within 24 hours.