Drumming up sympathy for lawyers is not a profitable occupation, but I invite you to share a little whistle at some news for them from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The MIT reckons it has shown that false memories can quite easily be implanted in mice, let alone imaginative and suggestible types like human witnesses.
Lead researcher Susumu Tanagawa is quoted saying: “Our study showed that false memory and genuine memory are based on almost identical brain mechanisms and it is difficult for the false memory bearer to distinguish between them. We hope our future findings along this line will further alert legislatures and legal experts to how unreliable memory can be.”
Fingerprinting and DNA science, once thought infallible, have already been shown to be vulnerable to human error. Chuck in a bit of string theory and it is easy to imagine a future in which it is impossible to prove anything at all beyond reasonable doubt …
Court clerk: “Are you Wayne Gideon Robbinsod-Syko of 12b Nogo Street, St. Snarling’s Estate, Pondsville?”
Defendant: “Inevitably, guv, in some world, I would have to say, in a universe of infinite possibilities, but whether it is this one, who am I to say? Especially, guv, allowing for Nork Theory and ten pints of Stella last night.”
Rupert Bossington-Pratt QC, for the Crown, shoots a glance of exasperation, tinged with admiration, at up-and-coming defence barrister Sophie Sophistry and rises to his feet.
Mr Bossington-Pratt: “So, Mr Robbinsod-Siko, we must consider that we are speaking to you, if indeed we are at all, across several dimensions of space and time. However, we do have video footage from six angles of a molecular apparition, let us put it no higher, with a striking resemblance to the one we think we behold now, entering a premises in Little Shitestown and emerging again with a 36-inch plasma-screen telly, later traded in The Vomiting Donkey, as we will hear from several witnesses, for a carton of Embassy and an ounce of something called Whee. Are you able to comment on the behaviour of what, it is conceded by the prosecution, might only be your very distant cousin from the planet Pluto?”
Defendant: “You say that. But how do I know you haven’t imagined the whole thing?”
Mr B-P: “Indeed. We will, of course, be attempting to reproduce the exact conditions under which a number of law enforcement officers were unanimously able to agree on which little scrote they were seeing on the films, and then to invite the jury to balance the admittedly flawed evidence of their own eyes against the infinity of possible explanations for their perceptions, before taking a gamble that the microsecond of space-time in which they then exist is close enough to the one before for them to remember what they have seen, and not something they read in the Beano when they were five, even allowing for recent case law on that point.”
Proceedings are interrupted while a note from the jury is passed to the judge.
Judge: “The jury asks to know, for guidance, whether a tree which falls in the forest makes a noise if there is nobody there to hear it.”
The hearing is adjourned for two days while everybody prepares submissions on this point.