Fingerprint comparison and adversarialism: The scientific and historical evidence

Gary Edmond, Emma Cunliffe, David Hamer

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This article suggests that lawyers and courts are largely oblivious to scientific insights regarding the value and limitations of latent fingerprint evidence. It proceeds through a detailed historical analysis of the way fingerprint evidence has been reported and challenged. It compares legal responses with mainstream scientific research. Our analysis shows that fingerprint evidence is routinely equated with categorical proof of identity notwithstanding scientific warnings that such an approach is ‘indefensible’. We find that legal challenges to latent fingerprint evidence have been uniformly focused on adjectival issues (e.g. compliance with enabling legislation), leaving the validity and accuracy of this subjective comparison technique virtually unexamined since its first reception at the very beginning of the twentieth century. Lack of legal engagement with validity, error and scientific research suggest that adversarial procedures have not worked effectively to secure scientifically reliable expert evidence and that legal personnel struggle with elementary scientific reasoning.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1287-1327
Number of pages41
JournalModern Law Review
Issue number6
Early online date23 Jul 2020
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2020


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