Forensic science and the myth of adversarial testing

Date & time

1–2pm Wednesday 18 September 2019


Phillipa Weeks Staff Library

Building 7
ANU College of Law
5 Fellows Rd


Professor Gary Edmond


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Presented by the ANU College of Law Visitors Committee

College seminar
Gary Edmond

This paper explains why the adversarial trial has not been an effective mechanism for regulating the admission and use of many forms of forensic science evidence. Drawing upon mainstream scientific research, and using an historical study of reported decisions on latent fingerprint evidence, it documents how lawyers and judges never required forensic practitioners to formally evaluate their procedures or to express opinions in ways that are scientifically defensible. For more than a century every challenge to latent fingerprint evidence focused on legal and procedural issues. Questions about validity and scientific reliability (e.g. Can you do it? How accurate are you?) were not asked until 2015. The study shows that legal approaches and practices were, and are, insensitive to mainstream scientific perspectives on latent fingerprint evidence. It demonstrates that our practices around the admission and presentation of forensic science evidence (extending well beyond latent fingerprint evidence) are fundamentally misconceived, that our lawyers and judges genuinely struggle with technical evidence, and that our legal institutions have developed rules and commitments that prevent them from receiving the benefits of mainstream scientific research and advice.


  • Professor Gary Edmond »

    Gary Edmond is a law professor in the School of Law at the University of New South Wales, where he directs the Program in Expertise, Evidence and Law and Research Professor, School of Law, Northumbria University. Originally trained in the history and philosophy of science at the University of Wollongong, he subsequently studied law at the University of Sydney and took a PhD in law from the University of Cambridge. An active commentator on expert evidence in Australia, England, the US and Canada, he is Vice President of the Australian Academy of Forensic Sciences, a member of Standards Australia’s forensic science committee, a member of the editorial board of the Australian Journal of Forensic Sciences, a Fellow of the Royal Society of New South Wales, and served as an international adviser to the Goudge Inquiry into Pediatric Forensic Pathology in Ontario (2007-2008). He is Chair of the Evidence-based Forensics Initiative and co-author of Australian Evidence: A principled approach to the common law and the uniform acts (6th ed. LexisNexis, 2017).

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