Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, Expert evidence and the unreliability of admissions during police interviews

Ian Freckelton

Research output: Contribution to journalComment / DebateOtherpeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)


It has been recognised for over a decade that Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASDs), if not identified, can result in miscarriages of justice by reason of profoundly reducing the culpability, and on occasion even the responsibility, of criminal offenders. The potential for such disorders to result in the unreliability of admissions and confessions to police (which may be vital pieces of evidence against accused persons) had also been recognised in principle. However, the decision of the Privy Council in Pora v The Queen [2015] UKPC 9 provides an authoritative legal precedent for recognition of the fact that questioning by police has the potential to yield unreliable and confabulated confessions from persons with FASDs. This highlights the need for all sectors of the criminal justice community to be alert to the presence of relevant impairments arising from pre-natal exposure of offenders to alcohol. The decision of the Privy Council also contains salutary warnings against preparedness of experts to go beyond the parameters of their expertise and to descend into detective work and advocacy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)173-183
Number of pages11
JournalPsychiatry, Psychology and Law
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 3 Mar 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Confessions
  • Expert evidence
  • Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder
  • Fresh evidence
  • Miscarriage of justice
  • Police interrogation
  • Ultimate issue rule

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