Unreliable Witness Testimony Resulted in 50 Years of Failed Justice: UK Study

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Sometimes 'Blind Justice' can produce tragic mistakes,. Photo by mira66 via Flickr

A major new study of more than 250 miscarriages of justice that have occurred in England and Wales over the last 50 years suggests that unreliable witness testimony has caused the most harm to the pursuit of justice than any other circumstances examined, reports Phys.org.

The research also suggests that regulations governing the powers of police have been effective in reducing wrongful convictions caused by unreliable confessions and has led to a new publicly available database of over 350 convictions overturned due to factual error in England and Wales and elsewhere in the UK, from 1970 to 2016. The study identified four key contributors to factual error miscarriages of justice in England and Wales—unreliable witness testimony, false or unreliable confessions, inadequate disclosure, and false or misleading forensic science.

One hundred and seven (41 percent) of the cases identified involved unreliable witness testimony, 69 (26 percent) of the cases involved a false or unreliable confession, 55 (21 percent) of the cases involved false or misleading forensic science and 47 (18 percent) of the cases involved inadequate disclosure.

Of the cases involving a false or unreliable confession; 68 percent involved murder convictions; 14 percent involved a manslaughter or assault conviction; 6 percent involved a sexual offenses conviction; 17 percent involved a robbery or burglary conviction and 1 percent involved a drug offense conviction.

“The data show that miscarriages of justice are persisting despite changes in legal regulation and are still a cause for concern in England and Wales. Studying the miscarriages of justice that have occurred provides us with the opportunity to learn from our mistakes, and see where the criminal justice system is going wrong in evaluating evidence,” said Dr. Rebecca Helm from the University of Exeter Law School, who led the analysis.

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