Joanna Glynn QC participated in the 2nd Royal Society – National Academy of Sciences Sackler Forum on Neuroscience and the Law in March 2011. The Royal Society published its Report on the subject on 13 December 2011, and as a member of the Review Panel Joanna discussed with Professor Nicholas Macintosh (Chair of the Working Group) its implications and recommendations on BBC Radio 4’s “All in the Mind.”

The Report describes the current reliability and potential contribution of neuroscientific evidence to risk assessment, the assessment of pain, lie detection, and the development of the juvenile brain, among other things. The discussion of reliability is particularly timely in the light of the Law Commission’s Report “Expert Evidence in Criminal Proceedings” (Law Com. No.325) presented to Parliament in March 2011, along with a draft Bill. The Law Commission’s work was undertaken in the wake of a number of wrongful convictions in infant death cases, and serious concerns about the reliability of the evidence of a group of neuroscientists. If the Law Commission’s recommendations are accepted, complex or controversial expert evidence will be subjected to a new reliability-based admissibility test, so that juries will not have to make difficult and important decisions on the basis of evidence that is demonstrably unreliable. The Royal Society’s Report acknowledges that most of the areas of neuroscience investigated in it are unlikely to play a significant part in court proceedings in England and Wales for some time, but, as this thought-provoking Report shows, there is every reason to expect some of the rapidly developing fields of neuroscience to contribute significantly to issues raised in the courts of the future. This will be facilitated if the training of the two professions and judges is improved to ensure greater cross-discipline understanding and literacy.

An article regarding this report has also been posted on the 1 Crown Office Row UK Human Rights Blog.