High Court excludes “body mapping” evidence as unscientific

In June, two academics from the Sydney University claimed that “too much weak, speculative and unreliable opinion is allowed into criminal proceedings”. They said Honeysett v The Queen was “an opportunity for the High Court to provide critically important guidance on the admissibility of expert opinion evidence in criminal proceedings under the now (almost) Uniform Evidence Law (‘UEL’)”. The High Court handed down its ruling this week. Under the UEL (which includes the Evidence Act 2008 (Vic)), expert opinion is admissible as evidence as long as it is based on specialised knowledge. In Honeysett, a professor of anatomy compared CCTV video to photos of the accused. The High Court ruled this so-called “body mapping” was not based on expertise: “his conclusion that Offender One and the appellant each have oval shaped heads … was based on Professor Henneberg’s subjective impression of what he saw when he looked at the images”. This was a comparison the jury could make for themselves. Furthermore, presenting “body mapping” as expert evidence could mislead the jury: “the use of technical terms … gave the unwarranted appearance of science to the prosecution case” and was unfair to the defendant. The High Court ordered a new trial.