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Focus on Forensics

DNA sequencing
BBC Radio 4's Law In Action
Tuesday 27 May 1600 GMT
On Radio 4 and online

Law In Action kicks off the summer series with an in-depth look at the role of forensic science and its impact on justice.

High-profile prosecutions have relied on DNA to convict the guilty. Steve Wright, who murdered five women in Suffolk, and Mark Dixie, the killer of Sally Anne Bowman, would probably not have been convicted without DNA evidence.

But the use of forensic evidence is not always so straight-forward in proving guilt, as Clive Coleman finds out when he debates the use of forensic techniques with a panel of experts.

In a wide-ranging discussion, Jacqueline Vallejo - criminal defence barrister from Tooks Chambers, Professor Jim Fraser - Director of the Centre for Forensic Science at the University of Strathclyde, and Tony Connell - special case work lawyer at the Crown Prosecution Service, debate the pros and cons of forensic evidence, and its effect on the criminal justice system.

Is science infallible?

Not always, argues Jacqueline Vallejo who outlines a case where the defendant was acquitted because of the possible cross-contamination of samples. Professor Jim Fraser questions how 'scientific' some of the evidence is that is given in court. Meanwhile, Tony Connell argues that although there may be individual mistakes based on human error, the system is essentially sound.

The 'CSI Effect'

We have all seen television programmes like CSI, Silent Witness and Waking the Dead. In these fictitious scenarios forensic scientists provide DNA profiles in minutes, nothing is impossible, and there are excited shouts of, 'It's a match!'

The team of forensic pathologists, Silent Witness
Are juries influenced by what they see on TV dramas like Silent Witness?

But could juries potentially be influenced by what they see on television?

In the United States there have been suggestions that members of juries are so used to seeing scientists perform miracles on television that they are reluctant to convict if there is no forensic evidence in a case.

Clive chairs a spirited discussion with the panel on the so-called 'CSI effect'.

If you have thoughts on any of the topics we've covered, or any other legal issues, Law In Action would like to hear from you.

You can contact us by email at or by post at Law In Action, BBC White City, Wood Lane, London W12 7TS or you can call us on 020 8752 5646.

Law In Action was broadcast on Tuesday 27 May 2008 at 1600 GMT on BBC Radio 4.

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