Legal Rules, Forensic Science and Wrongful Convictions

Carole McCartney

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


Law and science have long had a strained relationship although their tendency to ‘clash’ may have been exaggerated over the years. The source of their disharmony has most often been seen as the result of the two domains having both dissimilar methods and goals. Regardless of the extent to which this is true, there remain apposite and acute concerns regarding the status of science utilized by the law, in particular forensic science and its interplay with criminal law. Without delving into the philosophy of science or law, or the psychology of the courtroom, it is considered here whether legal rules have, and can, prevent flawed scientific evidence from entering the courtroom by empowering judges to rule questioned scientific evidence inadmissible. It concludes that where evidential hurdles for forensic science exist, decisions to permit forensic science into evidence may still appear arbitrary, as well as inconsistent between and within jurisdictions. In addition, such hurdles may come too late in the criminal process to prevent all injustices. Current attempts to regulate forensic science are welcome but do not yet go far enough to ensure that wrongful convictions will not continue to occur, with forensic science and scientists playing a significant role in these miscarriages of justice and judges unable to execute their gatekeeper role effectively and consistently.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationEncyclopaedia of Criminology and Criminal Justice
EditorsGerben Bruinsma, David Weisburd
Place of PublicationLondon
Number of pages5614
ISBN (Print)978-1461456896
Publication statusPublished - 2013


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