This paper documents the history of reported decisions on latent fingerprint evidence in Australian criminal proceedings. Starting with the appeals in R v Blacker (1910) and R v Parker (1912) in the first decades of the twentieth century, it explains how latent fingerprint evidence gained entry to criminal proceedings without latent fingerprint examiners ever having to demonstrate the accuracy of their evidence. The paper will consider the absence of serious methodological challenges (before 2015), notwithstanding: changing procedures (e.g. numbers of points required and the introduction of ACE-V); the emergence of new technologies (e.g. electronic databases); scientific influences on the forensic sciences (e.g. through the introduction of DNA profiling); and, most recently, critical reviews by mainstream scientists (e.g. reports by the National Academy of Sciences, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, PCAST, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science). The paper will explain why trial safeguards have not enabled lawyers and judges to recognise a range of issues with latent fingerprint evidence (and many other types of forensic science) and how, in consequence, decision-makers have been presented with exaggerated and misleading claims.


Professor Gary Edmond is a law professor in the School of Law at the University of New South Wales, where he directs the Program in Expertise, Evidence and Law, and a research professor (fractional) in the Law School at the University of Northumbria, UK. Originally trained in the history and philosophy of science, he subsequently studied law at the University of Sydney and took a PhD in law from the University of Cambridge. An active commentator on expert evidence in Australia, England, the US and Canada, he is a member of the Council of the Australian Academy of Forensic Sciences, a member of Standards Australia’s forensic science committee, a member of the editorial board of the Australian Journal of Forensic Sciences, and served as an international adviser to the Goudge Inquiry into Pediatric Forensic Pathology in Ontario (2007-2008). He is also Chair of the Evidence-based Forensics Initiative (EBFI) and, with Andrew Ligertwood, co-author of Australian EvidenceA principled approach to the common law and the uniform acts (6th ed. LexisNexis, 2017).


TC Beirne School of Law
Level 2, Forgan Smith Building
The University of Queensland, St Lucia
Sir Harry Gibbs Moot Court (W247)