B1. Choosing the right questions

No doubt some readers will be expostulating about the apparent triumph of legal precedent over scientific evidence embodied in the rejection of this application for an inquiry into a murder conviction on the grounds that a police transcript used to assist the jury’s perception of an indistinct covert recording used as evidence in the trial had been shown to be inaccurate.

But let’s take a calmer, less antagonistic approach.

This section addresses a range of questions that arise in relation to the ruling. They do so on the understanding that the role of science is to assist the law in delivering justice. Rather than dictating the views of science, it seeks to foster greater mutual understanding and collaboration between phonetic science and the law.

Recall the aim of the application

From the point of view of phonetic science, there does need to be review of the principles and practices by which police transcripts of indistinct audio are admitted as evidence.

However it is not the role of the judge reviewing an application like this to comment on that topic. His role is simply to decide whether the application presents fresh evidence that, had it been available to the court, could potentially have resulted in a different verdict, and thus warrants a review of the conviction.

What we can legitimately question

It is entirely right that the judge should refer to existing legal principles in reaching his judgement. Whether we might personally agree or disagree with the principles, they are the law and need to be adhered to until the law changes.

However, legal principles are rarely cut and dried. They always leave room for a judge to exercise judgement.

That is why a judge is always required to give reasons for the specific manner in which he or she applies the relevant legal principles.

What is interesting in this judge’s rejection is the reasons he articulates for reaching the conclusion he did.

The problem is

Some of these reasons are straightforwardly contradicted by well established findings of phonetic science. Indeed some are contradicted by everyday experience. Some are contradicted by this judge’s own reading of the law – amazing but true, as we show later in this section.

To be honest, I am not sure what the legal implications of that are, or should be.

At what point should scientific facts and common experience be allowed to undermine a judge’s conclusion?

These are questions I cannot answer, but that need to be raised, and to be discussed seriously and openly by those who can answer them.

Here I raise some (not all) of the points that seem anomalous to me in this judgment.

As with the factual outline, I am giving here only an indication of some of the issues that seem to me to be problematic, with the aim of raising public awareness and interest. More detailed discussion requires background in both legal and phonetic principles. You might like to look into Learn More when you have finished with the Case Study.

Sign up here for occasional news about Forensic Transcription (no spam!)