With food crime increasingly on the agenda Royal Society of Chemistry qualified Public Analysts, who provide the underpinning science to fight food crime, geared up to meet the challenge in court.   Claire Andrews and Jonathan Goulding from Gough Square Chambers put the food experts through their paces in the witness box in a seminar on court technique for the Expert Witness.

Organised by Michael Walker from the Government Chemist Programme the event took place in the imposing surroundings of the library at the Royal Society of Chemistry, Burlington House on 14 February 2014.

The event was very successful in realistic court training. Each of 12 experts in food and toxicology gave their evidence in chief and were cross – examined by Claire Andrews and Jonathan Goulding under the experienced eye of a magistrate and a Public Analyst who constituted the ‘bench’. Judith Barnett, who sat on the Harrow bench for many years kept proceedings legally correct while Malvern Barnett MChemA who has acted as Public Analyst for many Food Authorities supplied the bench with background knowledge.

The ‘cases’ included contamination of peanuts with cancer causing aflatoxins, meat species food fraud and passing off vegetable oil concoctions as premium dairy products.  Also under scrutiny were concealed additives that can affect children’s behaviour and a food supplement making very dubious claims to prevent, treat or cure diseases. Toxicologists who analyse post mortem specimens in Public Analyst labs for Coroners practised their forensic skills and that perennial magistrate’s court favourite, the watered spirit drink also featured. All the practice material came from recent investigations in Public Analysts labs.  Ms Andrews and Mr Goulding, acting alternately as prosecution and defence counsel, brought all their considerable forensic skills and broad knowledge of food law to the exercise.

The delegates were put through very realistic scenarios and in general acquitted themselves well. Although almost as nerve wracking as a real trial, all who took part learned from the experience and were keen that it should be repeated.