How to prevent wrongful convictions caused by misuse of science

A distinguished panel of judges, lawyers and forensic specialists from a range of disciplines and various countries will gather in Toronto on Saturday, May 9  for a timely conference looking at expert forensic evidence in criminal proceedings and how to avoid wrongful convictions.

The conference, titled Expert Forensic Evidence in Criminal Proceedings: Avoiding Wrongful Convictions, is jointly organized by Osgoode Professional Development (the professional development program of York’s Osgoode Hall Law School) and the Centre for Forensic Science & Medicine at the University of Toronto. It will take place on Saturday from 9am to 5pm at the MaRS Centre, 101 College Street at University Avenue.

Keynote conference speaker will be Ontario Court of Appeal Justice Stephen Goudge, commissioner of the Inquiry into Pediatric Forensic Pathology in Ontario. Another special guest speaker will be Peter Neufeld, co-director of The Innocence Project in New York City.

"Recent wrongful convictions or questionable criminal cases in which science has figured prominently make it important for judges, lawyers and forensic specialists to examine the role of science in criminal cases, and how to prevent its misuse," says Mark Sandler of Cooper & Sandler Barristers & Solicitors and special counsel, criminal law for the Goudge Inquiry. Sandler is co-chairing the conference along with Dr. Michael S. Pollanen, interim director of the Centre for Forensic Science & Medicine, and chief forensic pathologist for Ontario.

"This conference is especially timely and important," Sandler adds. "It examines the lessons learned from prominent cases in which scientific evidence has been discredited. It explores the scope and limits of science, how it is best communicated by experts and dealt with by lawyers and judges."

Among the topics that will be covered at the conference are:

  • the Steven Truscott case and lessons learned from it,
  • the importance of language in communicating and eliciting expert opinions,
  • threshold reliability and admissibility of expert evidence,
  • forensic scientific evidence in the criminal trial and appeal,
  • forensic evidence surrounding the living child, and
  • building an evidence-based report accounting for confirmation bias.

For a full list of speakers and a conference program, click here.