What does Equality have to do with Forensic Science and Medicine?

Thursday, September 26, 2019 - 12:30 to 13:45

Fasken Classroom (122) 


Topic: What does equality have to do with forensic science and medicine? 

Courts rely on expert opinion evidence to help them find facts accurately and fairly. Indeed, the rules regarding admissibility of expert evidence proceed on the express premise that an expert witness will be an independent  and unbiased advisor to the court (White Burgess Langille Inman v Abbott & Haliburton, 2015 SCC 23). From suspect identification to risk prediction, forensic science and medicine have been at the heart of the criminal legal system since the early 20th century. Over the same period, the operation of systemic racism and misogyny has been widely documented within that system and, indeed, acknowledged by the Supreme Court of Canada (see, e.g. R. v. Williams, [1998] 1 S.C.R. 1128; R v Barton, 2019 SCC 33). Yet analyses of the source and operation of implicit and structural bias have largely overlooked forensic science and medicine. Observing that the reliability of forensic science and medicine has been subject to increasing scrutiny in recent years, this talk asks: what does equality have to do with forensic science and medicine?

Speaker: Emma Cunliffe, Assistant Professor 

Dr Emma Cunliffe is an Associate Professor in the Allard School of Law.  Dr Cunliffe studies how courts decide the facts of contested cases.  She is particularly interested in expert evidence, the operation of implicit bias, and legal processes regarding interpersonal violence. Dr Cunliffe is a member of the evidence-based forensic initiative, which is based at the University of New South Wales (where she is a senior visiting fellow). With funding from SSHRC, Dr Cunliffe is presently analyzing Canadian trials, inquests and commissions of inquiry that engage with gendered violence, including violence against Indigenous people.  In this project, she is investigating whether expert knowledge (such as forensic medicine and psychiatric testing) operates as a Trojan horse by which discriminatory knowledge and beliefs reinforce implicit and structural biases within the legal system. She is also studying examples of legal processes in which discriminatory beliefs are successfully countered.  Her major work in progress is a monograph, Judging Experts.  This book explores examples of judicial engagement with expert evidence to assess how effectively Canadian legal processes ensure that expert witnesses provide independent and reliable expert testimony.  Dr Cunliffe’s work is predicated on a careful analysis of trial transcripts and court records such as expert reports.  She also compares experts’ work in legal cases against the research base of fields such as forensic pathology.

Eligible for 1 CPD credit.