Between March 11 and 14, 2015 thousands of students, teachers, scientists, engineers, mathematicians, technology experts, academics and other professionals will attend the Big Bang Fair at the NEC in Birmingham. The Big Bang Fair “is the largest celebration of science, technology, engineering and maths for young people in the UK.” The entire event is aimed at showing young people how many exciting and rewarding opportunities they can benefit from if they have the right experience and qualifications, especially in subjects associated with science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

Birmingham City University recently committed to investing £10 million to address the shortage of young people studying STEM subjects. As part of that commitment BCU will also be contributing various stands at the Big Bang Fair, including a stand staffed by experts from its Faculty of Business, Law and Social Sciences (BLSS). The BLSS stand will invite students to play decision-making and probability games underpinned by psychological theory, learn about the work of crime scene investigators, take part in a suspect line-up, classify their fingerprints, and solve a crime! These activities will involve experts in (and students studying) social sciences – psychology, criminology and, surprising to some, law.

Most students do not realise that lawyers fall under the umbrella of “social scientists,” and even more fail to realise that many lawyers benefit from and very often need STEM knowledge and skills.

Let me explain.

The BLSS stand will involve a crime scene: a cookie jar has been raided and all of the cookies have been stolen. This is the crime of theft. Surrounding the cookie jar visitors will see a number of different footprints from a bull, tiger, lion and skeleton. Via a set of clues, including a photograph identification line-up of suspects, visitors to the BLSS stand must figure out who is the thief. But, how does this show us that lawyers need STEM skills?

The answer to that question is that lawyers are the people who must accurately and lawfully handle the evidence i.e., the footprint evidence and the identification procedure evidence in a courtroom. Lawyers acting for the defendant i.e., the individual (or, in this case, animal!) accused of the crime must test the scientific validity of the evidence, and challenge the expert providing that evidence in court. For instance, the lawyer might need to know how scientifically reliable footprint ‘matching’ is and explore the scientific data upon which the expert places his conclusions. The lawyer might also need to know the ‘science’ behind how people identify people, and any related statistical evidence. This might require the lawyer to know about how the human brain and memory works, and to engage with empirical studies related to eyewitness identification. To test and present scientific and mathematical evidence, which is very common in courtrooms, lawyers need to understand the science behind the evidence. Without this knowledge and skill-set, a lawyer cannot ask appropriate questions, present a coherent case to a jury, and, in terms of justice, ensure a defendant gets a fair trial, as guaranteed by various human rights frameworks.

So, lawyers need STEM related knowledge too. In fact, this knowledge may be considered fundamental to ensuring the legitimacy of our justice system.

Come and visit the BLSS stand to find out more, and get the chance to dress-up as a barrister in our courtroom dock. That way, you can see what it looks and feels like to be a lawyer surrounded and clued-up by STEM.

Sarah Lucy Cooper

Senior Lecturer in Law, BCU

Sarah is one of our academic lawyers who engages with STEM subjects. Her doctoral research considers how American judges respond to post-conviction challenges to unreliable forensic evidence, and explores the institutional competence of courts to engage with scientific uncertainty.

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Sarah Cooper

Sarah Cooper

Sarah is a Senior Lecturer in Law and Director of Birmingham City University's Mooting Society. She has been a Fellow at the Arizona Justice Project in the United States since 2010.