Why check an Expert's credentials?

Categories: Forensic Casework experiences, News, Opinion, Sciblogs

An interesting article appeared in the Washington Post in September entitled Shoddy Forensic Science: fact & fiction.  As part of the lectures and presentations I give, I always mention why Experts should be instructed and how to tell that you have a genuine Expert.  The example I put up to explain why lawyers should check Experts’ credentials (rather than just assume that they are as good as they tell you they are) is a man called Gene Morrison.

Gene Morrison was a bogus “forensic investigator” based in the northern area of England.  He cut and pasted many of his reports cut from the internet. He was charged with a variety of offences including obtaining a money transfer by deception, obtaining property by deception, perverting the course of justice and perjury.  Morrison bought his qualifications from a sham university because, as he told the court it “looked easier” than attending a real university.  He’d never formally trained as a forensic scientist and it seems that he thought it would be a good way to make money.

Morrison was found guilty of most of the charges and jailed for 5  years in 2005.  The biggest issue is that he left a legacy of approximately 700 cases, prepared over a period of 26 years.  All of these cases had to be re-assessed to ensure that there had not been any miscarriages of justice.  Imagine the cost to the tax payer.

New Zealand, of course, had their own example in the form of Dr Michael Bottrill who mis-read cervical screening results in the Gisborne region.  23,000 slides were re-read by an Australian lab, which found that he only diagnosed 15% of the high grade cancer slides.

Unfortunately, it generally takes the occurrence of negative events to prompt change.  I cannot emphasise enough how strongly I feel that lawyers must adequately check the credentials of Experts before the stage of instruction – and checking of credentials is critical in so many areas, as demonstrated in the cervical smear debacle.

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