06/22/2020 - Australian News: A new Paper Warns Expert Witnesses are Encouraged to Bend Protocol With Autralian Courts Failing to Crack Down

A new paper published by Sydney Law review states expert witnesses in court cases are encouraged to overstate their findings and downplay the limits of their expertise.

University of Sydney Law School lecturer Dr Jason Chin and his co-authors at the University of NSW and University of Queensland claim policing by courts "do little to protect against unconscious bias".

Expert evidence has proved controversial in an array of high-profile criminal trials. One of which was the trial of Gordon Wood for the alleged murder of his girlfriend Caroline Byrne. After spending 3½ years in prison, Mr Wood was acquitted of murder by the Court of Criminal Appeal in 2012.

The appeal court said an expert experiment in which strong men threw a cooperative woman into a swimming pool was "not sophisticated" and did not help prove Mr Wood threw Ms Byrne off The Gap in Watsons Bay in 1995.The expert witness, retired Associate Professor Rod Cross, has insisted he had "no vested interest whatsoever"
in the trial's outcome.

Dr Chin and his co-authors, including UNSW Associate Professor Mehera San Roque,
do not allege impropriety in the Wood case but say generally research suggests scientists
and expert witnesses are encouraged "to overstate their findings and downplay the limits of their expertise".

Dr Chin told the Sydney Morning Herald it may be "tempting" for experts to overstate findings in a way that would not be considered illegal or a lie, "but if enough experts are doing this in court it's going to produce wrongful convictions and other inefficiencies".

The paper suggest recent reforms in the scientific world aimed at confronting potential biases in research may assist expert witnesses.

The paper says courts have adopted "increasingly flexible views" about enforcing the NSW code of conduct for expert witnesses.

Codes of suitable practice could be updated, they suggest, to require expert witnesses
to make stronger declarations.

The authors suggest the expert declare they have "conducted and reported all inquiries that the strongest critic of my opinion would make".