On 11 June 2018 the Statistics and Law Section of the Royal Statistical Society held a colloquium on the UK civil law approach to epidemiology and statistical evidence at Fountain Court Chambers, London. There was a wide range of attendees from academia, the legal profession and industry with expertise in epidemiology, statistics and legal epidemiology.
The event was split into five main presentations covering the views of a legal practitioner (Leigh-Ann Mulcahy QC), a judge (Mr Justice Jeremy Stuart-Smith), a legal academic (Professor Jane Stapleton), a statistician (Professor Jane Hutton) and an epidemiologist (Professor Alan Silman) and was followed by a discussion.
The aim of the event was to focus on finding what the main issues and questions are that face the legal profession regarding epidemiology and statistical evidence. Further events can then be focussed on finding solutions to these issues.
Major points covered in the discussion were:
- Misconceptions around the interpretation of the 'doubling the risk' test
- Understanding the difference between a cause and a risk factor
- Making sure the right experts are chosen to present scientific evidence
- The limitations of statistical comparisons
- Differences in interpreting the meaning of risk and understanding how legal measures of risk (eg the balance of probabilities) map onto statistical definitions.
In summary, the biggest issues seemed to arise when the court has to deal with factual causation, making this a good place to begin to identify what needs to change. To work towards identifying the relevant questions and solutions requires an interdisciplinary approach.
The problems discussed were very distinct in nature and therefore need input from those with a background in law, statistics and epidemiology.