Barristers’ guide for handling statistical evidence

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A new guide for barristers and solicitor advocates in England and Wales is being created by the Advocacy Training Council (ATC) and the Royal Statistical Society.

The ATC is the body responsible for promoting good practice in advocacy – the practice of barristers putting their client's case to the court. The ATC is working with the Royal Statistical Society as part of their wider project to develop a suite of training courses and materials promoting reliability in expert evidence.

Using a series of case studies, the short, accessible guide will help barristers better understand the application of statistics in legal situations, particularly in the interpretation of evidence in trials. Illustrating where an understanding of statistical concepts can aid examination of the evidence, and providing guidance on working with statistical experts, the guide will help ensure that statistical evidence is properly handled and examined in court cases.

The guide complements and draws upon the RSS Practitioner Guides to Communicating and Interpreting Statistical Evidence in the Administration of Criminal Justice, produced with the support of the Nuffield Foundation. These provide detailed guidance on aspects of statistical evidence and probabilistic reasoning.

Our Statistics and the Law Section, which aims to improve understanding and use of statistics in the administration of justice, was formed as a successor to the practitioner guides working group.

The RSS decided to work on statistics and the law following a number of court cases where the interpretation of statistics has been of concern, including the case of Sally Clark, where miscalculation of the probability of two cases of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome in a family led to wrongful conviction.

The guide will be piloted in the autumn, with the final version being available through the ATC and RSS websites by the end of the year.

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