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Helping Lawyers Bridge DNA Knowledge Gap

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture
Helping Lawyers Bridge DNA Knowledge Gap

A new course to help lawyers tackle difficult decisions about when and how to challenge DNA evidence presented in the courtroom is being launched at the University of Leeds.

This innovative course has been developed directly in response to the findings of market research carried out by the University in Yorkshire, Teesside and Greater Manchester.

The survey, which included feedback from criminal, immigration and family lawyers, revealed that lawyers felt they would benefit from boosting their understanding of the DNA evidence increasingly used in criminal prosecutions.

Forensic DNA for the Legal Profession will be led by Leeds academics Drs Michael Salter and Carole McCartney and will help lawyers understand the scientific background and legal framework associated with DNA profiling.

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The aim is to assist lawyers in identifying instances where they should either contest the evidence on scientific or evidential grounds, or at least seek further expert advice.

Dr Salter, an expert in genetic analysis and member of the University’s Faculty of Biological Sciences, says: “Forensic DNA evidence is often presented in courtrooms as irrefutable proof of guilt. Occasionally there are alternate explanations as to why there is a DNA match, however identifying those occasions is extremely difficult where lawyers have little or no training in the technology.”

Dr McCartney is a lecturer in criminal law and criminal justice at the University and has written extensively on DNA profiling.

She explains: “Our research clearly indicates there is a need for a course like this. This also fits with the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee’s findings, which expressed concern at the lack of mandatory training for lawyers in this area.”

She adds: “It is important that this gap is addressed as the significance of DNA evidence is only expected to increase with scientific developments occurring at a fast pace. It is critical that the legal profession keeps up with the scientists on issues like DNA profiling.”

The first courses are due to take place on the 17 and 18 September 2008 at the University of Leeds at a cost of Euro280 per place, and the four-hour session offers 7 accredited CPD points. Further courses are planned for September 2009.