Anthropological evidence is increasingly used in legal processes, yet law and anthropology take widely different approaches to evidence and proof. This panel focuses on anthropologists' experiences of giving or observing expert testimony, and their analyses of the legal processes involved.
This panel addresses two relatively recent developments in anthropology, of independent origin but now enjoying a creative symbiosis that is both theoretically stimulating and practically useful. The first is the reawakening of interest in the anthropology of law in the 1990s, especially in relation to the 'new legal pluralism' approach, with its focus upon lay understandings of and interactions with legal processes. The second is the increasing utilisation of anthropological knowledge as evidence in court cases: for example, indigenous land claims, asylum and human rights cases, family law, and increasingly, criminal cases too. Yet, while both law and anthropology deal with evidence as their raw material, their respective understandings of what evidence is (especially when it takes the form of evidence about 'culture'); its epistemological and ontological status; and the forms of analysis and reasoning whereby that evidence is to be understood and interpreted, seem to differ widely. Law's modernist empiricism may be pragmatically justifiable in contexts such as its use of the testimony of eyewitnesses to establish chains of events, yet its reifying approach seems highly problematic when applied to 'cultural' phenomena. Anthropology, on the other hand, has increasingly tended to stress discourse over behaviour, and to make general claims without, apparently, being overly concerned with rigorous approaches to proof. This panel will include papers by anthropologists reflecting upon their experiences of giving expert evidence in courts of law and their ethnographic observations of the kinds of legal processes involved.