Square peg in a round hole: the inability of the courts effectively to substitute further procedural rules for due process in the assessment of expert scientific testimony in criminal trials

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Following theHouseof CommonsScience&TechnologyCommitteereport[1]the Law Commission wasprompted[2] to consult(in2009[3]) andreport(in 2011) on Expert EvidenceinCriminalProceedingsinEnglandandWalesin orderto(1)improvethereliabilityof expert evidence used in criminal proceedings and so (2) to avoidwrongful convictions and acquittals basedonunreliableexpert evidence.[4] Itsproposalsaimed, amongst other things, to provide judges with uniform criteriaagainst which to assess such reliability. Butwe contend that such uniformity inevitably pays insufficient attention to the manyvariablesthatare relevantin instant cases at trial. Arguments for the implementationofspecifictestsof reliability of scientific evidence seem to us to cut across the due process requirementsofanadversarialcriminaltrial. Theexistingrulesandprinciplesofcriminalevidenceofferamuchmoreflexibleandappropriatemethodinthisregard.Bycontrast, trial judgesfollowingthe LawCommission’s rubric would often bepressedtoexcludeoradmitevidenceina mannercontrarytothegeneralprinciples of criminalevidence. Finally,itisimportanttonotethatin thispaperweproceed by assumingthatfundamentalpreceptsofadversarialjusticeare(i)correct,and(ii) likely topersistasa featureofthecommonlawofEnglandandWales.

It isimportant, as we shall see, to beginwith some general observations. The detectionandprosecutionofcrimeisnowadaysintimatelyconnectedto mattersofscience and forensic investigation. As a 2012 Government White Paper notes, ‘Forensic evidence can play acritical role in bringing offenders tojustice’.[5]The criminal justice system has not been slow to press scientific investigation into service, utilising science in a number of ways at different points within itsmachinery,and these operations have even come tobe popularised inworks offiction,television seriesandthroughthenationalmedia. Butdespitethenarrative presentedinpopular accounts, academicsandother professionals working withinthecriminal justice systemroutinelyacknowledgethat the relationship betweenscience and criminal proceedings has been a difficult one, and has led to uncertaintyateverystageoftheprocessinquestion. Oneexampleconcernsthe use towhichscientificexperttestimonyisputin trialproceedings. Thiswascalled into question in a series of high-profile miscarriagesofjustice highlighted insuccessfulappealsfrom1989to2005.[6] Inthesecasesconvictionswerequashedbecauseof,oratleastinpartbecauseof,doubtaboutthereliabilityofthescientifictestimony onwhich the convictions rested.[7] One result has been that a small academic industryhasarisentakingas its subject the proper manner in which courts should deal with science ingeneral andwith expert scientific testimony in particular.

Discussion revolves around the mostappropriatemethodfor determining the admissibility of scientific evidence. When is a new method ofsciencetobedeemedsuitablydevelopedforthepurposesof thetrialprocess? Whoshoulddeterminewhetherthescienceinquestionis‘junkscience’ornot? Shouldthisquestionbeamatterofadmissibilityorofweightforthetrieroffacttoassess?Shouldscientistsorexpertsdeterminewhenscienceis‘ready’tobeusedincourtordoesthatencroachtoofaronthepurviewofthejudge?[8]Rulingsandproposalsproliferate,covering thespectrum from hazy ‘laissez-faire’ models (allowing thereliabilityofevidencetofallmoreorlessentirelywithintheprovinceofthetrieroffact)[9] tothepositionofsteadilymoreprogrammaticandpreciseschemaintended toguidethejudiciaryasgatekeepers,ensuringthat inadequatesciencenevergetsputtothetrieroffactinthefirstplace.

The coreproblemisthis: thoughit isacceptedonall sidesthatscientifictestimonycanhelptoexplainwhatreallyhappenedwherefactsarecontestedattrial,courtsandtheiractorsoftencannotunderstandthescience,andso cannotproperlyweighthescientific evidence. Thesophisticationof scientificcausal explanations nowfrequentlyoutruns the understandingofthecourt. In an adversarial system inparticular,thisisasignificantproblem. Of course,therehasbeenalonghistoryin which successivecourtshavesoughttoaccommodatetheinsightsofsciencesafelywithincriminal proceedings. Over this period, different issues have been atthe forefrontofjudicialandacademicattentionatdifferenttimes. However,muchofthecurrentfocusispromptedbythemiscarriagesofjusticenotedabove,[10]intheideathatexpertopinionevidenceispresentlyadmittedincriminalproceedingstooreadily,withinsufficientscrutiny,[11] therebyallowingunreliablescientifictestimonytobeputbeforethetrieroffact. IndeedtheCriminalCasesReviewCommissionhasbeenconcernedthat‘thereisnodoubtthatthewayinwhichexpertevidenceis presented to juries, and the weight that is attached to it, will become anincreasinglyimportantfeatureinappeals.[12] Asit isaccepted(almostasatruism)that thetrieroffactisill-equipped topickoutunreliablefrom reliablescientific testimony, itfollows that some cases have come tobedecided onthebasis ofunreliablescientific evidence.[13] Reliabilityhasthus become thekey concept drivingpresentjudicialattentionandacademicdebate.

            Our aiminthispaperistoshowthattheLawCommission’sresponsetothematters in question is misconceived and focuses on introducing process rather than ensuringdue process. We dividethe paperintotwomainparts following thisintroduction. Inthefirst,we articulateourargumentthroughthreesections. Thefirst offers some further critical comment on the general frame for the Law Commissions proposals. The secondaddressesattentiontoempiricalresearchthatbears on the topic. The third section addressesmattersthatare more jurisprudential in character, though we willseethattheseareboundto the empirical research in interesting ways. In thesecondpartweillustrateour misgivings by giving attentiontothecaseinquestion, R v I,R&T[14] beforeconcluding.

Disturbingtheframe

We haveobservedthatissuesofthereliabilityofexpertopinionevidenceframethe present debate, and form a startingpointfor theLawCommission proposals.However, there is cause to wonderwhetherthe currentfocuson reliability ofscientific testimony is fully warranted, whether in the proposals of the LawCommissionorelsewhere. Afterall,miscarriagesofjusticearenotallduetotheunreliabilityofscientificexperttestimony,and indeedthereisempiricalevidencetoindicatethat such miscarriages are not even mostly due to the unreliability ofscientificexperttestimony.[15] Itisimportanttorememberthattheopportunitytobringanappealunderthe CriminalAppealAct 1968,s 2,s.23(1)and(2)allowthereliabilityofmanykindsof evidenceto berevisitedonappeal,whetherscientificorotherwise. It seemslikelytousthattheconcernregardingmiscarriagesofjusticeimplicatingexpertscientific evidence given attrial has been emphasised, through legal and media attentiontothecasesin question,justbecausethesubsequentrefutationof this evidenceis oftensostrikingandpersuasive.[16]

As scienceprogresses,sodoesthepotential forexpert testimony tobereconsidered asscientific tests improve. Thus,Holdsworth notes, ‘as knowledgeincreases,today’s orthodoxy may becometomorrow’sout-dated learning.[17] But the susceptibility ofsuch evidence toclearrefutationisa functionof the strength of scientific testimony, not asign of itsweakness. In fact,thedistinctivevalueofscientifictestimonyisgained,becauseits unreliability can be shown under empirical tests. In this way expert scientifictestimonyoughttobeseenasthegoldstandardfor evidencethatisuseful,clearandaccountable, allowing forthe ready prospect that successful appeals can bemadeon the basis of new objective scientific information. Matters are not soperspicaciousandtransparentforothertypesofevidence. Toanextentthiswasrecognisedinthe2009Law CommissionConsultationPaperwhichcommented:

It isfairtosay,however,thattheproblemsassociatedwithexpertevidencecanneverbeentirelyresolved.Scientificknowledgeiscontinuouslyadvancingasmoreempiricalresearchisundertaken,soitisinevitablethatsomehypotheseswillcometobemodifiedordiscarded,thatexperttestimonybasedonanysuchhypothesiswillsubsequentlycometoberegardedasunreliableandthatthiswillhavea bearing onthelegitimacyofconvictions(and,toalesserextent,acquittals)foundedonsuchtestimony.[18]

This problemexistsnotbecauseofanyfailingsonthepartofscientificexpertsor theirmethodology, butbecauseoftheverynatureofthescientificmethod.

            We areconcernedabouttheframefortheLawCommission’s proposalsinanother way too, for there is also cause to wonder whether the reliability of scientifictestimonyhascometobethefocusofcontemporaryconcernin partbecauseofthespecialroleofthejudgeinconsideringsuchevidence. Theideaissimpleenough as judgeshavefollowedBonython,[19] Frye,[20]Daubert[21]and othercasesinassumingone or another type of gatekeeping role withregard toexpert evidence,[22] so convictionshave been quashed -have been able tobequashed -where judgeshaveerred inexcluding or admitting the evidence inquestion. Significantly, nosuchappealwouldbegrantedonthegroundthatthetrieroffacthadweighedthesameevidence incorrectly, and such cases would likely not play soforcefully onpublicorlegalminds preciselybecause,legallyspeaking, nomiscarriageofjusticewouldhavetakenplace. In short,thespecialtreatmentaccorded toexpertopinion evidence bythecourtscreatestheconditionsinwhichmiscarriagesofjusticecan becommitted, then canbe quashed on grounds oferror oflaw. As there isnocomparable counterpart to this judicial gatekeeping role for other types ofevidence,expertopinionevidence-includingscientificevidence-hasbecomeoneofthemostvisibleexamplesofinjusticebecauseofevidentiaryunreliability. Butagain,thisisnotafunctionoftheunusualunreliabilityofsuchevidencebutratherafunctionofitsunusualtreatmentwithindueprocessincriminalproceedings. We alsothinkit issignificantthat,whilstconcernsabout reliabilitypresentlyframe calls for judicial or other intervention aheadofjudgmentof thetrieroffact, empirical researchstillneedstobeundertakentoascertainwhethererrorrate(that is,unreliability) is greater for expert scientific evidence than for other forms ofevidence. Indeed, it is difficult to perceive a justification for the distinctive treatment ofthescienceotherwise. Information fromtheInnocenceProjectintheUSAsuggeststhatmisidentification isa greatercauseofinjustice.[23] However,there isaplain need for further, more comprehensive and more accurate study tobe made; notleastbecausetheestimationoftheInnocenceProjectislikelyboundtothestructural issues we discussed in the paragraphs above, rather than pointingstraightforwardlytoerrorratesperse. Andof course,thesimpleincreaseinuseofexpert scientific testimony in trial proceedings (noted by Runciman[24]in 1993,Leveson[25]in 2010 andothers) increases thelikelihood that such evidence willbethecauseofinjusticethrough unreliability,withoutshowingthatthistestimonyisitselfmoreunreliablethanothertypesofevidence. Intheabsenceofstudiesthatattend empirically and with careful method to the reliability ofdifferent types of evidence,theoverarchingframefortheLawCommission’slegislativeproposalsand forthe contemporary debate in general must be treated as impressionistic andunsupported.

            Expert opiniontestimony,andparticularlythatof scientificopinion,hasthusbeen unfairlyand inappropriately singled out forspecialattentionin currentdebates. Suchtestimonyappearstopresentaspecialcase,inwhichbothsocietyandlegal actors have been struck by ‘wrongfulconvictionsin casesinvolving unreliableexpertopinion evidence adduced bythe prosecution.[26] But this may bedue to matters unrelated tothepeculiar unreliabilityofsuch evidence, but rather to (1)the ability of such evidence to be struck down on appeal because of thetransparency and accountability of scientific testimonyin the first place; (2) the judges’role asgatekeeper, running admissibility together with reliability, and soallowing convictions to be quashedaserrorsof law;and(3)the increasingly commonuseofexpertscientificopiniontestimonyin criminalproceedings,whichinevitablyincreases thelikelihoodof unreliablescientific evidence being led inproceedings, leading in turn to wrongful convictions on the acceptance of suchevidence. Toimputethislastphenomenonto somepeculiarunreliabilityofexpertscientific testimony, and then toimagine that thisshould motivate special rules governing theadmissibilityofsuchevidence,istoraisepolicyonthebackofaclearfallacyofcomposition. Wedonotthinkthattheincreasinguseof expertscientifictestimonyincriminalproceedings warrantstheapplicationofspecialrulesortestsasimagined by the LawCommission. Far frombeing necessarily linked to theunreliabilityofsuchevidence,it ismoreplausibletoseetheincreasingimplicationofsuch evidencein wrongfulconvictionsasa product of the success of such evidenceincontributing reliably tosafe convictions -hence itspopularity in the handsoftheprosecutiontobeginwith.[27]

Again, it might be thought that the increasing importance of expert scientifictestimonyat trial (which also corresponds to its increasing use at trial, in turnarising, presumably, because of the increasing reliability of such evidence inspeakingto different matters at issue at trial) is sufficient by itself to warrantspecialtreatment on grounds ofadmissibility. Certainly the premise isputoften enough.[28] But we note here that there is no specificjudicialgatekeepingrole attachingto,say,thereliabilityofsignificanteye-witness orotherdirecttestimony,nor has there been any significant argument made to subject such manifestlyweighty evidence to some specialjudicialgatekeeping arbitration – preciselybecausesuchevidenceshouldbelefttothetrieroffactinlightofitssignificance.Thesame argument cannot reasonably now be made the other way, that expert scientifictestimonyshouldbecheckedfirstforreliabilitybythejudgeongrounds ofitscompellingweightintrialproceedings. And,aswehavenotedabove,neithercanthespecialtreatmentofexpertscientifictestimonyreasonablybegroundedinconcerns about its peculiarunreliability. But theseare, nonetheless, the twostrandsthatrunthroughtheliteratureatissue,framingtheLawCommission’sandothers’proposalsandrulings. Wethinktheseargumentsdon’tholdup,andsoitturns out that disturbance done to our adversarialsystem(in removingfactual matters indisputefromtheprocessofcross-examination, andfromthehearingof thetrier offact) depends inlarge measure upon arguments whose premises lacksupportandwhoseconclusionslackvalidity.

Of course, it must not be forgotten (andwe do not) that criminal courts come principallytodeliberateexpertscientificevidenceina particularway,treatingitnotasanabstractjurisprudential questionoftheplaceofsciencewithinlaw,butasaconcretemattergoingdirectlytotheadmissibilityof thetestimonyof experts,the admissibility ofwhoseopinionevidenceisanexceptionto thegeneralexclusionof opinionin criminal trial proceedings. The judge istasked with discharging theresponsibilitytoadmitorexcludetheexpertscientificevidenceas opinionevidence regardingtheparticular case at hand. IntheAustralian case of Bonython[29] King CJ began his analytical treatment ofthe admissibility ofexpert testimony by notingthatsuchevidenceisadmissibleonlywherethesubjectmatteroftheopiniongivenislikely tobeoutside the experience and knowledge ofajudge and jury. Thismuchis accepted generally, for example in Australia, the USA and in courts inEnglandandWales.[30] Therequirementisnotafunctionofthescientificnatureofsomeexperttestimony,butisratherafunctionofitsadmissibilityasanexceptiontothegeneralruleonopinionevidence. Evenso,thenotionthatthetrialjudgehasa gatekeeping roleinrelation tosuch evidence isthus already planted. King CJ alsoarticulatedafurtheruniversallyacceptedpremisefor theadmissibilityofsuchopinion evidence – that the expert in question has sufficient knowledge andexperiencetojustifyhavinghisorheropinionplacedbeforethejuryasanexpertopiniononthematter inquestion. Thisrequirementallowsforcounsel’sobjectiontotestimonyduringtrialproceedings,aswell asinpre-trial disclosure,wherethe expert inquestionbeginsofferingopiniononmattersbeyondhisorherexpertise.[31] Again, the relevant question falls to the judgetodetermineasa matterof admissibility, soheretoo,thejudgeassumesagatekeepingrole. Inbothcases,thegatekeeping role falls out under the idea that expert opinion evidence is anexceptiontothegeneralcasebecauseitoffersexpertassistancetothecourtthatwouldotherwisebeunavailabletoit inmakingitsfindingoffact.

            Even inthesesmallbeginningsitispossibletotracethedifficultiesthatcourts–andthustheLawCommission–havecometograpplewith. Forseenthisway,as responsestodifficultiesencounteredin judgingtheexpertiseofasupposedexpertonaparticularmatterinquestion,the naturalinstinct,particularlyforlowercourts, is tofind some further instruction or rubric tohelp adjudicate the matter. This instinctisfurthermotivatedbytherealisationthattheassessmentofexpertise,forany particular matter in issue, naturally runs together with the substantiveassessmentofboththescienceandscientist(wherethe expertopinionisscientificinnature). Theseforcespromptcourtsto lookto furtherprocessinanattempttoavoidmaking a judgement about the science in question,onwhich they are ill-equipped to adjudicate. The result is theinternationalplethoraof judgments, rulings,legislative acts, academic treatisesand,now,Law Commission proposalsthatpresentlycrowdontheissue. Ratherthanaddressingasingleissueabouttheadmissibilityofopinion as expert testimony inEngland and Wales, wenow havelistsofaccreditedexperts.[32] WehavehadaForensicScienceService,testsofthegeneralacceptanceofthescienceinquestionwithinthatfield,proposalsforhownovel scientific approaches should bedealt with under admissibility, tests ofthe reliability ofthe evidence inquestion, and argumentsthatreliabilityshould, laissez-faire, go to the trier of fact,[33] or be shared with the judge as an initialgatekeeper,orindeed beamatter for some pre-trialboard orpanel of experts.Theproposalsthatarelessschematicriskinjusticebecauseunreliablesciencewillbeputtothetrieroffact;thosethataremoreschematicriskinjusticebecausethejudiciarymayexcludegoodscienceas unreliable,opposingcounselmaynothavetheopportunitytoexamineit, andthetrieroffactwillneverhearitinevidence.And pre-trial panels risk usurping the function ofthe court and jury altogether,particularlyinlightoftheincreasinguseofscientificandotherexperttestimonyin criminal proceedings. Academicshavearguedforemphasisonthetrieroffactor pre-trial panels,[34] whilstcourts,equally predictably,havesoughtout further procedural rulestodisposeoftheirobligations. Everywheretherearetensions,andeverywheretherearerisks. Nowhereistherea simple,clearandpracticalsolution.

The practical solution

All this heat and light might well be beside the point, however. Matters seem intractablewheretheframeisdrawnaccordingto thepresentdifficultiesfacingthecourts,and where proposals are made in response to these felt problems. Butthough there have been high-profile cases of wrongful convictions, there isempiricalevidence tosuggest that more programmatic solutions donot typicallyalter the practice of the courts in dealing with the issues of admissibility inquestion. Forexample,in theUScontext,David Faigman notices that despite appearances tothecontrary,theFrye[35]test,whichappearsrestrictiveincomparisonto the later Daubert[36] test, ‘much of the time’ produces‘similaroutcomes’.[37]He writes:

While Daubertis oftenperceivedandappliedbythecourtsrigorously,it isregularly described asbeingapermissivetest. Similarly, Frye is typically considered a rigorous test,butis oftenemployedinapermissivemanner.[38]

Lord Leveson,ina2010speech,noticesthat despitetheapprovalofKingCJ’s3-parttestin numerousdecisions,‘onlythefirstandthirdlimbsofthistestcanbe saidtorepresent thecurrent state of English law’, noting that theEnglish courts add‘afourthrequirementthattheexpertmustbecapableof providinganimpartialopinion.[39] The omission of the second limb arises because it requires an assessmentof‘whetherthesubjectmatteroftheopinionformspartofabodyofknowledge or experience which is sufficiently organised or recognised to be acceptedasareliablebodyofknowledgeorexperience’and,accordingtoLeveson, ‘there remainsageneralreluctanceonthepartofjudgestoensurewhatI shallterm the “reliablebodyofknowledgeandexperience”conditionformspartofthetestof admissibility.[40] Edmond and Roberts, writing in the Sydney Law Review, citeempiricalstudies that appear to show that questions in cross-examination havelittleimpactindisturbingthefaithputbyjuriesin thetestimonyofexperts,whilstjudicialwarningsto juriesconcerningtheweightandtreatmentproperlytobegivenexperttestimonyprovidesonlya weaksafeguardagainstjuriesleftto‘flounderandresortto generalimpressions.[41] EdmondandRobertstaketheseempiricalstudiesto show that adversarial trial procedures arepoorly equipped todeal with expert evidence. We thinktheyshowthatbarristersneedtobebetterattheirjobs. But regardlessofthisdifferenceaboutconclusion,thefactsremain: empiricalstudies suggestthat process and regulation little alter behaviour ofcourt actors, betheythe judiciary, barristers, the triers of fact or indeed, the behaviour of expert witnessesthemselves.

More unreliable than other forms of evidence?

Let usemphasiseourargumentsofar. Some scientificexpertopinionevidenceis unreliable. Butithasnotbeenshownthatsuchevidenceismoreunreliablethan otherforms ofevidence. Some scientific expert opinion evidence isof particularweightincriminalproceedings. Butnotallsuchscientificevidenceis soweighty,andmanyotherformsofevidencesuchasdirectevidencefromwell-positionedandimpartialobserversmighthavesimilarorgreaterweightinanyparticulartrial. Sotheproposalsmadeby theLawCommissioncanneitherbegroundedintheclaimthatscientific-andother-expertopinionevidenceispeculiarlyunreliable,norintheclaim that itispeculiarly important. Weare leftwith two arguments forthespecialtreatmentofsuchevidence,andthusfortheproposalssuggestedin theLaw Commission’s report. Thefirstisthatscientificexpertopinionevidenceis aspecial casejustbecauseexpertopinionevidenceisa specialcase. Becausesuchevidencecandepend,amongstotherthings,onhearsayevidencegatheredfromtheworkofotherexpertsnotpresent atthetrial,specialtreatmentandcareiswarranted. Thesecondargumentisthat,regardlessofjurisprudential andotherconceptualpoints,andregardless of consistency with adversarial convention and due process, theplainfactisthatjudges,barristersandjuriesdonotunderstandalotofcomplex expert scientifictestimony,andsofurthersafeguardsareneededbeyondthosein theordinarycase,intheinterestsofjusticeandfairnessto theaccused. Wedeal withthesetwoargumentsinturn,below.

            The firstargumentcanbenegatedfairly easily. Any assumptions made by an expertthat depend upon hearsay will either be accepted by opposing expert or counsel, or,if contested,oughtproperlytobecontestedinthenormaladversarialway.[42] Noreasoncanbefoundfortheimpositionofextraordinaryrules,processesorjudicial intervention just because scientific expert testimony is expert opiniontestimony. Rather,thisfirstargumentturnsoutjustto collapsewholesaleintothesecond; ie, if the evidence is to be contested it will require understanding oftechnicalmattersandterminologybeyondthescopeofthejudge,counselandtrieroffact. It isinthecontextofthisquestionthatthewell-known andwell-rehearsed debatesflood in–the extent towhich the courts should accede toa deference model,[43] theextenttowhichexpertsshouldgiveopinionaboutultimateissuesoffact,andthequandarythatsupposedlypresentsitselfto jurieswhenacknowledgedexpertsdisagree. Indeed,to thistraditionallistcannowbeaddedmorecolourfuldebates,suchasthoseconcerningCSI andReverse-CSIeffects,[44]andsoon. Allofthese are without question matters that are importantandworthyof serious considerationontheirownterms. Butthey donot,singlyorcollectively,leadtothe conclusionthatthejudgesshouldbegatekeepersusingan additionalreliabilitytest toensurethatunreliablesciencedoesnotreachthetrieroffact.

            Our argumentherecanbeputsuccinctly. Themotivationforan additionaljudicial gatekeeping rule is practical, to ensure thatunreliablesciencedoesnot come before atrieroffactill-equipped toconsideriteffectively(no-one, itappears,has promotedthegatekeepingrole,orapre-trialpanel,inordertopromptamoveto inquisitorialand technocratic justice by the back door). The trouble is that a pragmatic gatekeeping role does not work. This isaconsiderable and damaging ironyinlightofthepracticalmotivationfortheapproach. Itdoesn’tworkbecause (i)asweknow, courts are loathetoimplement it,even whilst citing allBonython[45]limbswithapproval,[46]andbecause(ii) evenwherecourtstrytoimplementit,theycannotdoso confidently and effectively.[47] Indeed, it isinteresting tonotice, asShawdoes, that both the British Psychological Society and the Forensic ScienceService have expresseddoubtsconcerningthe ability of judges to assess thereliabilityofscientificevidencesafely.[48] In shortweconsiderthatitcannotbegoodtosuggest atesttotrialjudgesthatleavestheirbestimplementationofit inevitably hostagetosuccessful appeal. Itcannot begood for the judges themselves, but more significantly, it cannot be good law. We now trace and illustrate these misgivingsthroughtherecentcaseofI,R&T.[49]

Reliability test

In thissection werelate I,R&T[50]to matters proposed bytheLaw Commission in 2011. Firstly, we describe the case in questionandthenwesummarisein advance ofourgeneralconclusionsinthe final part. In theLawCommissionreport,the following isnotedat2.14:

Following thepublicationof ourconsultationpaper,theexistenceofa commonlaw reliabilitytestwasconfirmed bythe Court ofAppeal inReed, atleast for ‘expertevidenceofascientificnature’;butitistobenotedthatthecourtdidnotdemur fromthe established position that there is no enhanced reliability test for suchevidence.

Heffernan and others had noted, following the Consultation Paper, that the LawCommission’sremitseemedtoonarrow,focussingjuston thecornersof,anddetailfor,areliabilitytest. ItwasnotclearthereevenwassuchatestinEnglishlaw,andwheresuchanarrowfocusfailedto embracethemanyotheraspectsoftheuseof scientific testimony in courts that might otherwise have been regarded.Plainly,weagree.TheLawCommission’sargumentat 2.14of itsReportisamajorplankin their defence of the narrowness of their focus. That is, in 2009 thereliabilitytest was confirmed (inReed),[51] and socannow be theproper focus ofattentionandclarification.[52] HencetheLawCommission’s subsequentproposals, arguingfor statutory implementation of anenhancedreliabilitytestof thesort specificallyexcluded by Reed.[53] Support for theLawCommission’sfundamental propositionabout current common law comes inthefootnote tothesection, the LawCommissionnotingtherethatinReed:[54]

The CourtofAppealheldat[111]thatwhile‘expertevidenceofascientificnatureisnotadmissiblewherethescientificbasisonwhichit isadvancedisinsufficientlyreliableforittobeputbeforethejury’thereis‘noenhancedtestofadmissibility for suchevidence’.

But thesequotationsfailtosupporttheLawCommission’sconclusion. In Reed[55]the comments are introduced at [111] with the observationthat,‘Thereare three relevantprinciples relating to the admissibilityof theevidencegivenby ValerieTomlinson[theexpert]’. WhattheCourtofAppealthennotes-aswecansee-isthat where the scientific basis for expertscientifictestimonyis ‘insufficientlyreliableforittobeput before thejury’ then itshouldn’t be put before thejury.There is no express test of reliability here, contra theLawCommission’s interpretation. TheCourtofAppeal’srulingis,rather,aconfirmationofstanding rulesofevidence,particularlythosegoingto expertopinionevidence. Indeed,thisisemphasised inthe following quotation inwhich itis affirmed that there is‘noenhanced admissibility test forsuch evidence’. It isentirely possible toread theCourtof Appeal’srulingconsistentwith,say, the requirement ofrelevancy as acondition of admissibility,and/or,say,withthe common law principle that theprobativevalueofanyitemofevidencemustoutweighitsprejudicialeffectinordertobeadmittedinproceedings. If thecourthadintendedtoaffirmtheexistenceofa distinctcommonlawtestfor the admissibility ofexpert scientific testimony, itcouldjusthavedoneso. Butthereismore.

            Thus it maybenoticedthattheLawCommission,at 2.14,assertsthatReed[56]affirmsanestablished position on expert scientific testimony, that ‘there is noenhancedreliabilitytestforsuchevidence’. So,thereisareliabilitytest,justnotanenhancedone. But Reed[57] doesnot say this atall. The ruling, quoted bythe LawCommissionin itsfootnote, says instead that there ‘is noenhanced admissibilitytestfor such evidence’(emphasisadded). And this distinction isprecisely that,betweentherebeingan expressreliabilitytest(ontheLawCommission’s incorrectconstrual)andtherenot beingone(on Reeditself). Thisconfusion,inoneformor another, then permeates through the Law Commission’sunderstandingof subsequentcases in 2.15, and in footnote 34. It might also be said that theimprecisionandconfusioninquestionpermeatesthelawitself.

            In anyevent,therearenowfurtherjudgmentson thequestionsinceReed[58]in2009andtheothercasesputinevidencebytheLawCommissionin reportingin2011.Thesecases can help our understanding of the likely success of the proposalsmade. Thus inJune 2012 the Court ofAppeal heard anappeal from the CrownCourtinHull,inwhichtheprosecutionappliedunders.58of theCriminalJusticeAct2003 for judgment against aruling by the trial judge (His Honour Judge Sampson) toexcludeexpertscientificevidencethatthe prosecutionwishedtoadduce. Weexaminethisappeal,I, R & T,[59]below. It relatestotheLaw Commission’s proposals simplybecauseitillustratesthedifficultiescourtshave(attrial,oronappeal)inattemptingto implement an enhanced reliability test suchas thatproposedbytheLaw Commission.

Closer look at I, R & T

The applicationconcernedtheadmissibilityofanestablishedscientifictest,theCIE test,on which the prosecution sought to rely in evidence. The case concerned whetherafarmerandhisdaughterhad processedanimalbloodcorrectlybyheatingitto133degreescentigradefortwentyminutes,as pertherelevantregulations. ItwasacceptedbythetrialjudgethattheCIEtest‘isawell-establishedandhighlyreputabletestwithavarietyofapplications.[60] Oneoftheseapplicationsisto‘testforthepresenceofanimalproteinsintheblood. Ifthebloodhasbeenheatedtoatemperature inexcessof75degreesnoanimalproteinswillbefound’. Thetrialjudgenotedthatthe‘presenceofanimalprotein wouldthereforedemonstratethat the bloodhadnotbeenheatedbeyond75degrees,and,moreover,in thecontextof this casenotprocessedto133degreescentigradeinaccordancewiththerequired standard.[61] Therelevantevidenceshowedthatanimalproteinswerefoundinthebloodinissue. However,thebloodsampledwasalsofoundtocontainnobacteria(clostridiumbacteria,itwasnoted,aredestroyedat120degrees),andthisfact,i.e.thelackofbacteria,appearedto beinconsistentwiththereliabilityoftheCIEtest.Moreover,asthetrialjudgenoted,it wasacceptedbybothprosecutionanddefencethat‘CIE testing has never before been applied toblood which has purportedly undergone processing/storage/onwarddistributionin/at/fromaplantsuchas[that inquestion].’ Hecontinued,‘NosimilarplantshavebeentestedtocompareresultsfollowingaCIEtest. TheD’ssubmitthatalthoughthisisa reliabletestitisbeingappliedinanovelcontextwithoutevaluationofitsefficacyin thatcontext.[62]

            The trial judge then offered hisview, that ‘The test foradmissibility of scientificevidenceisnotstraightforward. Thereisnosingleuniversaltestincommonlaworinstatute. Therearefactorswhichofferguidanceto thejudgewhendecidingtheadmissibilityofscientificevidence’. Hecontinued:

InmyjudgmentthetestforadmissibilityoftheCIEtestis thatwhichis setoutin paragraph 12ofthedefendants’submissions:Is theunderlyingsciencesufficientlyreliabletobeadmittedinacourtof law?Thesimpleanswerto thatquestioninthis case is ‘yes’,butinmyjudgmentthebetteranswerisyesunlesstherearefactors over andabovethevagueandfancifulthatcastdoubtonthe reliabilityoftheCIE test in thecontextof/onthespecialfactsofthiscase.[63]

As thetrialjudgedidindeedconsiderthatthereweresuchfactorsin thepresent case,[64] heruledthattheevidencedrawingontheresultsof theCIEtestwasto be excludedfromthetrialproceedings.

            The trialjudgethusappearstohaveappliedanenhancedreliabilitytestsimilartothatproposedbytheLawCommission. SupportforthiscanbefoundintheLawCommission report’s proposals at 5.35 (1) (b), (c), and (h), and -perhapsparticularly-at(3),andinClause4andPart1oftheschedule,particularlyat4(2)(d)&(e). Moreover, thetrial judge’s approach makesrobustsense, becausethe assessment ofreliabilitysurelycannotbeunderstoodrestrictivelyhere,but mustbe interpretedbroadly,tomeanreliabilitywithregardtothecircumstancesinquestion (asithappens,pertheLawCommission’s 4.1(2)(d)). Otherwisecourtsmightruleadmissible a procedure for scrambling eggs (certainly reliable, if only for thatpurpose)notwithstandingitsunorthodoxapplicationin aninstantcase,forexamplein the drawing of conclusions about the presence of DNA at the crime scene(certainly unreliable for this purpose). But, interestingly, theCourt of Appealdisagreed. The Court’sjudgmentwasthatoncethetrialjudgehadruledthattheCIEtestisa ‘well-recognised andreliabletestforestablishingwhetherornotanimalproteinisorisnot present inblood’, thetest results were admissible. The Appeal rulingnoted furtherthat,‘Thefactthatthetestwas usedforanewpurpose,orinanew context, didnotofitselfrenderthetestunproven.[65] TheAppealjudgmentthen addressed thetrialjudge’sfurthercomment;i.e.inholdingthatinansweringthetesthe ought further to consider whether ‘there are factors over and above thevagueandfancifulthatcast doubtonthereliabilityoftheCIEtestinthecontextof/onthespecialfactsofthiscase’. This,theAppealCourtruled,wasto‘confusethequestion of admissibility with the question whether, if admitted, the expert evidence was such that on its basis a jury could properly convict I.[66] In consequencetheCourtallowedtheappeal.

Final thoughts on I, R & T

It appearstousthatthetrialjudgedidnothingwrongin comingtohisrulingat trial. Notablyhe doesnotsuggestanadditiontotherelevanttestofadmissibility,whichisapprovedbothbyhimandtheCourtofAppealin itsruling. Rather,thetrialjudge’sregardtoadditionalmatters(i.e. those‘overandabovethevagueandfancifulthat cast doubt onthereliability oftheCIEtest inthecontext of/on thespecialfactsofthiscase’)isinvokedbyhiminhisattempttoanswertheacceptedtest. Thetrial judge thereby employs an enhancedmethodin reasoningtohis conclusionon admissibility. It is ‘enhanced’ in the sense adopted by the LawCommission(viz.itsproposalsat4(2)(d)and(e)),andinthestraightforwardsensethat it is demonstrably more restrictive than the Court of Appeal thought permissibleunder existing law. The trialjudge’s deliberation isreasonable – soreasonable,infact, that itisdifficult tocomprehend how areasonable judgmentaboutadmissibilitycouldbemadewithoutattendingto thecontextualmattershe puts inquestion. Andthisisbecausethelawcannoteasilyoreffectivelycutissues of reliabilityatthejoints. Inshort,reliabilityisreliabilityallthewaydown,andany attempt to open a court’s considerationto reliability,butthento restrict itsdeliberationthere,willinevitableappeararbitraryandunreasonable ontheinstantfacts.

            Similarly, however, wealsoconsider thatthe Court ofAppeal acted reasonably in allowing theappealinquestion. Thisisbecause,astheprosecutionaverredintheircontention to the higher court, the trial judge had confused the question ofadmissibilityofexpert evidence with thequestion ofthe weight ofthat evidence.Weagree: the matters brought into question with regard to admissibility wereproperlytheprovinceofthetrieroffact. Indeed,dueprocessundertheprinciplesof our adversarial system demands as much as aminimumrequirement. We acknowledge thatoursupportofboth courtsis contradictory,butthereis no paradox becausethecontradictionis entirelyexplicableasthefailingof the supposed reliabilitytestinquestion. Suchcontradictionsare merelythe predictable result oftheimpositionofaseparate reliabilitytestforadmissibilityin an adversarialsystem that requires evidentiary weight tobeassessed by the trier offact. Such a test is impossible for courts effectively to apply, and leaves trialjudges’bestimplementation ofitinevitablyhostagetosuccessfulappeal. Suchapolicyisbadfor trialjudges,badfor appellatecourts,badforlegalcertainty,badforadversarialdueprocessandunworkableinpractice.

Conclusion

It willnaturally(andrightly)beobjectedthatourtreatmentofvariousissuesinthis paperhasattendedinadequatelytomanyfinerpointsregardingthe criminalcourts’ treatment of expert scientific opinion testimony. We have not attempted acomprehensiveoverviewofthelaw,or evenof thedetailof thereformproposalsonoffer,norhaveweengagedtheseissuesfroma particularperspective(e.g.ofbestpractice for forensic scientists at trial). Such studies have, in any case, beenproduced elsewhere, including academic treatments of the Law Commission’sproposalsthemselves.Theseproposalshave,incriticalcomment,beenperceivedasan important move or the opinion has been that they offer very little new consideration,ifanyatall.[67] Insteadwehavetriedwithintheshortspaceofthis essaytoprompt areframing ofthe debate. Ourargument hasbeen delivered intwoparts. Inthefirstwemade some criticalcommentsabouttheacceptedstartingpointsforpresentproposals,attackingthe premisesandreasoningthathavebeencitedinsupportofthepresentfocusonreliability. In thesecondpartwetookamorepragmatic approach, arguing that the promotion of reliability in tests foradmissibilityofexpertopinionevidenceis unworkableinpractice. Itsetsjudgesupforfailure, and provides fertile ground for successfulappealsagainst conviction withoutproviding anydeterminate reason inlawwhy such decisions should havegoneonewayratherthantheother.

            The reframingwehavein mindasksfortheadmissibilityof expertscientificopinion testimony tobelookedatintheround. AsEdmondandRoachobserve:

The Law Commission’s paper illustrates how a superficial understanding of Daubert tendstogeneratecountervailingpressuresto makeexceptionsforexpert evidence basedonexperience,emergingtechnologies,and oldertechniquesnever shownto be reliable. The Law Commission’sproposal exemplifiesthe apparentreluctance(orinability)ofmanylaw reformers(andpracticingjudgesandlawyers)toengage with critical non-legalliteratures orcontemplate change totraditionalformsofpractice inorder topreserve fundamental legal principles underpinningtheaccusatorialcriminaltrial.[68]

In factwethinkthereneedstobeattention toactualerrorratesfordifferenttypes ofevidence indetermining policy, but also topossibilities that have often beendismissedout of hand, such as the use of existing common law principles ofadmissibilityinthedeliberationofthemattersinquestion. Theuseofrelevancy,sufficient weight and the requirement that probative value outweighs prejudicialeffect, too breezilypushedasidein theLaw Commission’s consultation paper,[69] mightyetfurnish appropriate tools to ensure due process, whilst possessing the obvious merit that these principles have evolved to cohere closely with the adversarialsystemofwhichtheyareapart. Indeed,thereis reasontobelievethatexistingrulesandprinciplesofcriminalevidencehavebeenthe onlyonesinuseall along,atleast inEngland and Wales, with courts applying atest of admissibilitythat,in the context of expert opinion evidence, requires that an assessment ofreliabilityismadeinitsanswer(viz.Reed[70]andI, R &T,[71]above). Indeed,muchofthe confusion in law,at least,hasarisenpreciselybecauseofjudicialuncertaintyabout how to incorporate a new common law testof reliabilitywithinthiswell-worn frame,ratherthanconcerningreliabilityassimplyamattertobeconsideredunder thetestofadmissibilityinsuchcases. Wealsoconsiderthatmanyof theperceived difficulties inhandling expert scientific testimony could beanswered ifbarristers were better at dealing with suchtestimony– whichisnotan unreasonableexpectationforpartiestohave.



[1] House ofCommonsScienceandTechnologyCommittee,ForensicScienceonTrial,Seventh

Report oftheSession2004-05,HC96-I2005.

[2] Noted inLawCommission, ExpertEvidenceinCriminalProceedingsinEnglandandWales(LawComNo325,2011) at1.2,availablehttp://lawcommission.justice.gov.uk/areas/ expert-evidence-in-criminal-trials.htm,accessed25March2012.

[3] Law CommissionofEnglandandWales,TheAdmissibility ofExpertEvidenceinCriminalProceedingsinEnglandandWales:ANewApproachtotheDetermination ofEvidentiaryReliability(LawComConsultation PaperNo190,2009).

[4] Law Commission, ExpertEvidenceinCriminalProceedingsinEnglandandWales(LawCom No 325,2011).

[5] Ministry of Justice Swift and Sure Justice: The Government’s Plans for Reform of the

Criminal Justice System (White Paper, Cm 8388, 2012) para 33

[6] For examplesee: RvArmstrong,Richardson,HillandConlon,20/10/1989 TimesLawReports,RvDallagher[2002]EWCACrim1903,RvClark[2003]EWCACrim216,Rv Cannings[2004]EWCACrim1,RvHarris[2005]EWCACrim1980.

[7] See LizHeffernanandMarkCoen‘TheReliabilityofExpertEvidence:Reflectionsonthe Law Commission’s proposalsforReform’(2009)73JCL488,490.

[8] For interesting early discussion see House of Commons Science and Technology Committee, Forensic Science on Trial, Seventh Report of the Session 2004-05, HC 96-I 2005, 171-189.

[9] For example, THE LawCommission notes that‘CriminalcourtsinEnglandandWalesthereforeonlyrarelyruleexpertopinionevidenceinadmissibleonthegroundofevidentiaryunreliability.Thecourtstendtoallowexpertevidencetobeadmittedonthe assumptionthatitsreliabilitywillbeeffectivelychallengedduringthetrialbycross- examinationorbytheadductionofcontraryexpertevidencebyanotherparty,orboth’LawCommission,ExpertEvidenceinCriminalProceedingsinEnglandandWales(LawComNo 325, 2011)paras3.3-3.4.

[10] See LawCommissionExpertEvidenceinCriminalProceedingsinEnglandandWales(Law Com No325,2011),1.3-1.7.

[11] Law CommissionExpertEvidenceinCriminalProceedingsinEnglandandWales(LawCom No 325,2011),1.2.

[12] Criminal CasesReviewCommission, AnnualReportandAccounts2010-11(HC1225,July 2011) 19.

[13] Although foradifferingviewpointandinterestingdebateseeMarkFindlay‘Juror comprehensionandthehardcase–Makingforensicevidencesimpler’(2008)36IntJournalofLaw,CrimeandJustice15-53.

[14] [2012] EWCA Crim 1288.

[15] See, forexample,DNAexonerationcommentaryfromtheInnocenceProject,availableat http://www.innocenceproject.org/understand/accessed05April2013.

[16] See for example, R v Dallagher [2002] EWCA Crim 1903.

[17] [2008] EWCACrim971,para57

[18] Law CommissionofEnglandandWales,TheAdmissibility ofExpertEvidenceinCriminalProceedingsinEnglandandWales:ANewApproachtotheDetermination ofEvidentiaryReliability(LawComConsultation PaperNo190,2009)1.17-1.18.

[19] The Queen v Bonython [1984] 38SASR45.

[20] Frye v United States [1923] 293 F 1013.

[21] Daubert vMerrellDowPharmaceuticalsInc[1993]509US589.

[22] But notethattheEnglishpositionshouldbedistinguished fromthatoftheUnitedStates–seeLizHeffernanandMarkCoen‘TheReliabilityofExpertEvidence:ReflectionsontheLawCommission’sproposalsforReform’(2009)73JCL488,495.

[23] Innocence Project(USA)availableathttp://www.innocenceproject.org/understand/

accessed 05April2013.

[24] Royal CommissiononCriminalJustice(RuncimanCommission) (ReportCM2263,1993).

[25] Lord JusticeLeveson,‘ExpertEvidenceinCriminalTrials–theProblem’(speechtotheForensicScienceSociety,LondonNovember2010),p1-2, availableathttp:// www.judiciary.gov.uk/Resources/JCO/Documents/Speeches/speech-by-lj-leveson-kcl-expert-evidence-161110.pdf,accessed04April2013.

[26] Law Commission Expert Evidence in Criminal Proceedings in England and Wales (Law Com No 325, 2011) 1.3

[27] See forexample,CPSpilotofforensicstreamlinedreportsavailableathttp://

www.cps.gov.uk/legal/s_to_u/scientific_evidence/streamlined_forensic_reporting/,accessed 08 April2013.

[28] See, forexample,LordJusticeLeveson,‘ExpertEvidenceinCriminalTrials–the

Problem’ (speechtotheForensicScienceSociety,LondonNovember2010).

[29] Bonython (n 20).

[30] See RvTurner(1975)1QB834.

[31] See, forexample,RvTang[2006]NSWCCA167.

[32]In part,throughthenowdefunctCouncilfortheRegistrationofForensicPractitionersandalsoavailablethrough,forexample,theExpertWitnessInstitute.

[33]See forexampleMosesLJinHenderson[2010]2CrAppR24CA.

[34]See forexampleEdmond’sproposalforanewmultidisciplinaryadvisorypanelprovidingadvicetocourtswithinwhatheterms‘narrowreferences’. GaryEdmond‘Adviceforthecourts?Sufficientlyreliableassistancewithforensicscienceandmedicine(Part2)’(2012)16(3)IntlJournalEvidence&Proof263-297,273orShaw’sdifferentlyconstitutedProfessionalCertificationPanels,KenShaw,‘ExpertEvidenceReliability;TimetoGrasptheNettle’(2011) 75 JCL368,369.

[35] Frye (n 21).

[36] Daubert (n 22).

[37]David Faigman‘Admissibility Regimes:The“opinionrule”andotherodditiesandexceptionstoscientificevidence,thescientificrevolution,andcommonsense’(2008)

Sw. U.L.Rev.699,700.

[38]David Faigman‘AdmissibilityRegimes:The“opinionrule”andotherodditiesandexceptionstoscientificevidence,thescientificrevolution,andcommonsense’(2008)Sw. U.L.Rev.699,702-03.

[39]Lord JusticeLeveson,‘ExpertEvidenceinCriminalTrials–theProblem’(speechtothe Forensic ScienceSociety,LondonNovember2010),p3-4.

[40]Lord JusticeLeveson,‘ExpertEvidenceinCriminalTrials–theProblem’(speechtothe Forensic ScienceSociety,LondonNovember2010),p4.

[41]Gary EdmondandAndrewRoberts‘ProceduralFairness,theCriminalTrialandForensic Science andMedicine’(2011)33SydLRev359,368.

[42]Including, forexample,throughpre-trialmeeting. Forconsideration oftheroleofanexpertinthisway seePeterSommer, ‘Meetingsbetweenexperts:aroutetosimpler,fairertrials?’(2009)Digitalinvestigation, 5(3-4).pp.146-152.availableat http:// eprints.lse.ac.uk/21683/accessed08April2013.

[43]See forexample Ronald AllenandJosephMiller‘CommonLawTheoryofExperts:DeferenceorEducation’(1993)87Nw.U.L.Rev.1131.

[44]T Tyler, 'Viewing CSI and the Threshold of Guilt: Managing Truth and Justice in Reality and Fiction' [2006] Yale Law Journal 1050, 1050.

[45] Bonython (n 20).

[46] See forexample,LordJusticeLeveson,‘ExpertEvidenceinCriminalTrials–theProblem’(speechtotheForensicScienceSociety,LondonNovember2010),andLizHeffernanandMarkCoen‘TheReliabilityofExpertEvidence:ReflectionsontheLawCommission’sproposalsforReform’(2009)73JCL488,489.

[47]Liz HeffernanandMarkCoen‘TheReliabilityofExpertEvidence:ReflectionsontheLaw Commission’s proposalsforReform’(2009)73JCL488,492.

[48]Ken Shaw,‘ExpertEvidenceReliability;TimetoGrasptheNettle’(2011)75JCL368,371.

[49]I, R and T (n 20).

[50] ibid.

[51]R vReed;RvGarmson[2009]EWCACrim2698.

[52]The decisioninReedwasnotavailableatthetimeofthepublicationoftheLaw Commission’sconsultationdocument(LawCom190,2009)andsoonlybecameafocusinthefinalReportof2011(LawCom325,2011).

[53] Reed (n 52).

[54] ibid.

[55] ibid.

[56] (n 52)

[57] ibid.

[58] ibid.

[59] I, R & T (n 15).

[60]I,R&T (n 15)[12].

[61]ibid[7].

[62]ibid[14].

[63]ibid[15].

[64]I,R&T (n 15)[16].

[65]ibid[29].

[66]ibid[30].

[67]See forexample,Ring,S‘DueProcessandtheAdmissionofExpertEvidenceonRecoveredMemoryinHistoricChildSexualAbuseCases:LessonsfromAmerica’(2012)16(1).IntJournalofEvidenceandProof,66andAdamWilson‘TheLawCommission's Recommendation onExpertOpinionEvidence:Sufficientreliability?’[2012]3Web JCLI availableathttp://webjcli.ncl.ac.uk/2012/issue3/wilson3.htmlaccessed28March 2013.

[68] Gary Edmond & Kent Roach, ‘A contextual approach to the admissibility of the state’s forensic science and medical evidence.’ (2011), 61 University of Toronto Law Journal 342, 347.

[69] See Law Commission of England and Wales, The Admissibility of Expert Evidence in Criminal Proceedings in England and Wales: A New Approach to the Determination of Evidentiary Reliability (Law Com Consultation Paper No 190, 2009) note 9 at paragraph 4.3 and paragraphs 4.19-20

[70] Reed (n 52).

[71] I, R & T (n 15).

 

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