As reported in the Canadian Legal Newswire on December 2, 2013, Professor Michael Saks, a law and social science scholar from the Arizona State University, recently spoke to the Toronto Conference marking the 20th anniversary of Canada’s Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted.
Professor Saks’ topic was the historic defects in the work of forensic scientists, and one of the needed reforms he identified was a system of “quality controls” that would prevent “motivated perceptions” by forensic scientists.
In the forensic science context, “motivated perceptions” are, according to Professor Saks, skewed interpretations of evidence caused by forensic scientists’ felt need to support “the expectations of investigators and prosecutors” – ie., subconsciously biased interpretations of the data.
This phenomenon of “motivated perceptions” is one we might well want to watch out for in the administrative justice system. Might the “perception” of evidence by tribunal adjudicators be subconsciously “motivated” by a felt need to support the “expectations” not of investigators or prosecutors but of host ministry officials – or, perhaps, of a tribunal chair?
Might the danger in adjudicative tribunals of the unwitting development of institutional bias – of, for example, the development of institutional cultures of denial, or of acceptance – be countered by education strategies directed to sensitizing tribunal adjudicators to the danger of “motivated perceptions” of evidence – perceptions to which forensic scientists are widely believed to have often succumbed?
Just saying ….