The Forensic Ethics of Scientific Communication

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The question of how scientists can ethically communicate information about their work to the public has become increasingly important in the context of issues such as climate change and covid. This article considers how far ethical principles developed in those contexts are also applicable to criminal trials and pre-trial proceedings. In particular, it examines the work of Onora O’Neill, and the framework developed by Keohane, Lane and Oppenheimer (2017), and finds that it show a good degree of ‘fit’ with existing legal requirements and professional guidance, though it also raises questions about the ethical acceptability of streamlined forensic reports.
The fundamental principle expounded by O’Neill, and further developed by Keohane et al, is that scientific communication must aim to be accessible to, and assessable by, its intended audiences. There is a tension between making evidence ‘accessible’ and making it ‘assessable’, and Keohane et al’s work provides some guidance as to how this tension can be handled. In the case of forensic science, a fundamental question is whether these aims can be achieved simply by scientists reporting their findings in an ethical way, or whether ‘assessability’ requires scientifically validated measures of probative value that are unavailable for many branches of forensic science. The article suggests a relatively optimistic answer: provided the evidence is ‘sufficiently reliable to be admitted’, ethical testimony which clearly acknowledges the limitations of the evidence should put the jury in a position to assess it rationally in the context of the other evidence in the case.
Original languageEnglish
JournalThe Journal of Criminal Law
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 28 Jan 2022


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