Autumn is, of course, conference season – and there are two particular conferences of note to expert witnesses of all disciplines. In November the Bond Solon Expert Witness Conference attracted a packed house, particularly fitting as it was the 25th running of that particular race. A further attraction was a desire to learn about new rules for medical experts.
Before that, though, came the annual conference of the Expert Witness Institute. It acts as a kick-off for legal gatherings, as remarked by Elizabeth Robson Taylor of Richmond Green Chambers. Her extensive report on proceedings makes fascinating reading, for which we convey to her our thanks. One of the issues under discussion was the prospect of artificial intelligence being deployed in legal work. Ms Taylor baulked at the prospect of a row of robots in the Supreme Court.
Robots are very much here and now, however, in the transport sphere, and the government has grasped the bull by the horns for a change and involved itself in a new regime to ensure driverless vehicles are safe on our roads. Recent high-profile mishaps have brought the issue to the fore.
In the event of an accident causing personal injury, who would be held responsible? And who would conduct the proceedings? Maybe those robots that had worried Elizabeth Robson Taylor.
There is no doubt about liability when it comes to accidents caused by people using mobile phones while driving. The evolution of smart phones and the ingenuity of lawyers have, however, combined to make the prosecution of people using the devices to take photographs difficult. The government is committed to closing the loophole.
The use of mobile phones in prisons is also banned, but prisoners have naturally found ways of secreting them. Again, the evolution of smart phones has enabled villains to do much more than merely phone home. All manner of online crime is the target of a new crack MoJ team of digital forensics experts.
One of the unfathomables of the digital age – and one criminals are keen to exploit – is cryptocurrencies and other cryptoassets. It is another area where the British judiciary has taken the lead. By laying down the legal basis for cryptoassets it allows them to be properly regulated and policed. Similarly with so-called smart contracts.
While cryptocurrencies may be the money of the future, the money of the past was at the heart of a criminal trial recently. A rare hoard of Saxon coins was found by a pair of detectorists near Leominster. The hoard could have shed light on a little-known part of our history – except the pair decided to tell no-one, including the landowner, who would have shared in the reward, and sell the coins. Sadly, many of the coins have disappeared into the marketplace.
Causing grief to site owners is just one of the problems caused by so-called ‘free-runners’ – people who break into building sites and climb up half-built structures, cranes and anything else they can grab onto. Under the Occupiers’ Liability Acts of 1957 and 1984 the site owner or contractor is liable for their safety and can be prosecuted if they injure themselves. Exasperated site owners have taken to obtaining injunctions to deter the activity.
Back on terra firma, courts can only function if everyone involved in a case understands everyone else. It seems obvious, but with more than 250 languages being spoken in UK courts in one year alone, the need for accurate interpretation and translation is paramount. The issue is not always one of finding someone to speak the language concerned – their knowledge of English has to be sufficient to understand what is said by the judge and lawyers. It is a skilled occupation and one that has been undervalued by successive governments.