Brunel University in West London and the British Science Association are calling for a review of the test for dishonesty, known as the Ghosh test, in criminal law.
Dr Stefan Fafinski and Dr Emily Finch, criminal lawyers and social scientists at Brunel Law School, believe that the Ghosh test is flawed because it is based on an unattainable common standard of 'dishonesty'.
To discover how public perceptions of dishonesty can vary (and therefore affect the outcome of criminal trials), Brunel University and the British Science Association today announce the start of an international scientific study into dishonesty.
Funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), Honesty Lab (www.honestylab.com), is an interactive online survey open to members of the public across the globe.
The aim is to get 20,000 people to complete the brief online study over the coming months and the results will be revealed at the British Science Festival in Surrey this September.
Under current criminal law, there is no definition of dishonesty but a defendant is found to have acted dishonestly if they were aware that their conduct was dishonest in the eyes of reasonable and honest people.
Honesty Lab will test the researchers' prediction that there is no common standard of dishonesty in today's society because there are many factors that affect our judgment of honest or dishonest acts, for example how the 'defendant' looks and whether or not we can relate to the person or act in question.
Dr Stefan Fafinski comments: “There were around two million recorded crimes involving dishonesty in 2008, so the findings from the Honesty Lab in evaluating the fairness of the current test in criminal law will be of major public importance and could alter the way judicial trials are conducted.“
To take part in this one of a kind international scientific study, members of the public are encouraged to visit www.honestylab.com, where they will be asked to view a selection of short video clips to judge whether or not they think the act described is honest or dishonest.
Before viewing each clip, respondents will be shown a picture and brief biography of the 'defendant' and asked to state whether or not they think the person looks honest and whether or not they think the person is similar to themselves.
The acts described will include lying on a CV, knowingly purchasing a pirate DVD and using office stationery for personal use.
Dr Emily Finch comments: “We believe that the Honesty Lab project will prove that public attitudes to dishonesty are shaped by the varying personal traits of defendants, jurors and magistrates, suggesting that whether or not a person is convicted of an offence involving dishonesty, such as theft, could be somewhat of a lottery under current criminal law.
"For example, in April 2002, a man was convicted of theft after collecting over a thousand lost golf balls from a lake on a golf course using scuba diving equipment. It is entirely possible that another jury on another day would have decided that this was not dishonest and he would have been acquitted.“
Sue Hordijenko, Director of Programmes at the British Science Association, said: “We are delighted to be working with Brunel University on this intriguing study. Participants will be contributing to a unique piece of research that could have major implications for law policy in cases involving dishonesty, and we're looking forward to revealing the results at the British Science Festival in September.“
The findings from Honesty Lab will be presented at the British Science Festival, taking place at the University of Surrey, Guildford and across the region from 5-10 September 2009.
The next phase of research will then involve re-enacting trials in front of mock juries and analysing the jury decision-making processes in much greater depth, as well as conducting more focused studies with the public and the judiciary.
Notes to Editors
About Brunel Law School
Brunel Law School was created in October 2006, prior to which Law was a Department within the School of Social Sciences and Law. Since its opening in 1966, Brunel University has established itself as a major player in the UK law research landscape and is now ranked in the top ten in the UK for research.
Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) results published on 18 December 2008 rated 90% of Brunel Law School's research as being of international quality, with 50% being rated as either world-leading or internationally excellent (in terms of originality, significance and rigour). For more information about Brunel's RAE success, visit /research/rae2008.
About Dr Stefan Fafinski
Stefan is a criminal lawyer who has published extensively on e-crime, computer law and computer misuse. He is a Chartered Scientist, a Chartered Engineer and a Fellow of the British Computer Society. His research has informed debate and has been influential in driving legal reform. He won the 2006 British Science Association Joseph Lister Award for his work on e-crime.
Stefan holds a Bachelor of Laws degree with first-class honours and a Masters degree in Natural Sciences from St John's College, University of Cambridge. His doctorate in criminal law was conducted within the Centre for Criminal Justice Studies at the University of Leeds.
About Dr Emily Finch
Emily is a criminologist and criminal lawyer with extensive experience in criminological research. She has published extensively in the areas of stalking, drug-assisted rape and identity fraud. Her research has been influential in influencing policy-makers both on a domestic and international level.
She won the 2005 British Science Association Joseph Lister Award for her work on identity fraud. Emily has a first class degree in law and doctorate from the University of Wales, Aberystwyth. She is a Member of the European Association of Psychology and Law, the British Computer Society and the Fraud Advisory Panel and she is a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy.
About the British Science Association
The British Science Association is the UK's nationwide, open membership organisation that exists to advance the public understanding, accessibility and accountability of the sciences and engineering.
Established in 1831, the British Science Association organises major initiatives across the UK, including National Science and Engineering Week, the annual British Science Festival, programmes of regional and local events, and an extensive programme for young people in schools and colleges.
The Association also organises specific activities for the science communication community in the UK through its Science in Society programme. For more information visit www.britishscienceassociation.org.
The British Science Association is part of the 'Science: [So What? So Everything]' campaign which aims to show people how science benefits our everyday lives, is crucial in strengthening the UK economy and meeting some of the major challenges of our time. For more information visit www.direct.gov.uk/sciencesowhat.
About the British Science Festival
The British Science Festival is one of Europe's largest science festivals and regularly attracts over 350 of the UK's top scientists and speakers to discuss the latest developments in science with the public. Over 50,000 visitors regularly attend the talks, discussions and workshops. The Festival takes place at a different location each year.
The 2009 British Science Festival will take place from 5-10 September at the University of Surrey, Guildford, and across the region. It is organised by the British Science Association in partnership with the University of Surrey, Guildford Borough Council, Surrey County Council and the South East England Development Agency (SEEDA). For further information, visit www.britishsciencefestival.org.
About the ESRC
The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is the UK's largest organisation for funding research on economic and social issues. It supports independent, high quality research which has an impact on business, the public sector and the third sector.
The ESRC's planned total expenditure in 2009/10 is £204 million. At any one time the ESRC supports over 4,000 researchers and postgraduate students in academic institutions and independent research institutes.
Katy Askew / Dominique Nunes, Racepoint Group
Tel: 020 8752 3200