Neurolaw in Australia: The Use of Neuroscience in Australian Criminal Proceedings
30 Pages Posted: 2 Jan 2019
Date Written: December 15, 2018
Recent research has detailed the use of neuroscience in several jurisdictions, but Australia remains a notable omission. To fill this substantial void we performed a systematic review of neuroscience in Australian criminal cases. The first section of this article reports the results of our review by detailing the purposes for which neuroscience is admitted into Australian criminal courts. We found that neuroscience is being admitted pre-trial (as evidence of fitness to stand trial), at trial (to support the defence of insanity and substantial impairment of the mind), and during sentencing. In the second section, we evaluate these applications. We generally found that courts admit neuroscience cautiously, and to supplement more well-established forms of evidence. Still, we found some instances in which the court seemed to misunderstand the neuroscience. These cases ranged from interpreting neuroscience as “objective” evidence to admitting neuroscience when the same non-neuroscientific psychiatric evidence would be inadmissible for being common sense. Furthermore, in some cases, neuroscientific evidence presents a double-edged sword; it may serve to either aggravate or mitigate a sentence. Thus, the decision about whether or not to tender this evidence is risky.
Keywords: criminal law, neuroscience, neurolaw, sentencing, evidence, law and science, fitness to stand trial
JEL Classification: K10, K14, K42
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation