Monday, 7 May 2012

Were the "expert" witnesses competent and honest?

When Lord Hutton conducted his Inquiry he quite reasonably called a number of witnesses who one would expect to be expert in their specialisms.  We imagine these individuals are both competent and honest.  A person who is supposedly a forensic expert can pull the wool over one's eyes because most of us don't have the knowledge to immediately refute the expert's argument nor do we have the time to dissect what they have said or written.  The expert has had his say, and with a number of qualifications and in most cases years of experience who are we to say they are wrong?

I am not an expert but, as with certain other folk, I can pull an argument apart and am prepared to do so where necessary.  The following have all been found wanting: Assistant Chief Constable Michael Page, Forensic Pathologist Nicholas Hunt, Forensic Toxicologist Alexander Allan, Forensic Scientist Roy Green, Consultant Psychiatrist Keith Hawton and we musn't overlook Lord Hutton himself.  An expose of at least some of their failures will be a key feature of this blog.

It's worth noting at this point what Hutton was saying about expert witnesses and his Inquiry on 3 September 2010.  On this date he wrote to the Attorney General with an attached report, what he described as "a note" that he intended giving to the Lord Chancellor.  In response to criticisms he states at 1(b):
The inquiry was as full and thorough as an inquest, and was probably more so because a considerable number of expert witnesses gave detailed evidence including a Home Office pathologist, a forensic biologist and a forensic toxicologist.  The leading expert on suicide in England, Professor Keith Hawton of Oxford University, was also called to give evidence.

This paragraph by Lord Hutton is absolute nonsense!  It would have been open to the coroner to call all of these people including Hawton.  There would have been nothing at all to stop the Oxfordshire coroner doing this, whether he would have done so is a different argument, the point is he could have done.  Moreover, because they would have had to give evidence under oath at an inquest then it would be more likely if anything for the inquest to be better than an inquiry (or at least the casual sort of inquiry that happenned here).

The example just given of Hutton's musings demonstrates how poor his arguments can be. 

1 comment:

  1. I've been thinking a bit more about the Hutton paragraph 1(b) which I reproduced in my post. He refers to 'a considerable number of expert witnesses'. But how does he define "expert witnesses"? I would have thought he meant the quoted experts together with the 5 police officers who gave evidence and the two ambulance crew.

    But this is typical of Hutton: when it suits him he can be vague or evasive. To many people "expert witnesses" might lead them to think of forensic specialists only. Using the words "considerable number" and "including" suggests quite a few more "expert witnesses" attended the Inquiry.