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How sure is sure?

We need a more rigorous definition of ‘beyond reasonable doubt’, argues Clive Stafford Smith

10 November 2016

One of the many issues that spring out of expert testimony is the obvious influence of experts on the decision maker – whether a judge or a jury. In a criminal trial in the UK, for example, the jury is asked to determine whether the accused is guilty ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’. The Crown Court Bench Book provides that ‘being sure is the same as entertaining no reasonable doubt’. This is an inherently vague concept, and one that is influenced by the expert in a number of ways.

The first issue is how different people speak very different languages. A doctor may enter the courtroom, clothed in professional respectability, and give an opinion – a diagnosis – of what caused a particular injury. However, when a doctor announces that they are ‘sure’ of a diagnosis, just how sure is ‘medical sure’?

I carried out an on-the-spot sur...

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