Law, Knowledge and Expertise

From expert evidence in the courtroom, to the use of scientific knowledge in the justification for, and framing of, legislation, law and science are inextricably intertwined. Yet the extent to which science is well represented in law has long been doubted by virtue of a ‘clash of cultures’ (Jasanoff 1992). The issue has become more pressing in recent years due to the growth of scientific and technological innovation, which draws into the adjudicative, legislative and policy realms areas of great scientific complexity for which legal expertise, in and of itself, proves insufficient (Vick 2004; Schrama 2011). Such work also highlights the significant barriers and obstacles for regulators understanding other disciplines and the problems that can result. The same dangers confront non-legal disciplinary experts that are drawn into, or whose work is ‘dropped’ in, the legal and political realms.

A significant body of LawLab work, in conjunction with other Cardiff University research centres including the Research Centre for the Study of Knowledge, Expertise, Science centralises these tensions. Disciplines are akin to foreign cultures, with different languages, norms and forms of life and actors become disciplined, and acquire the tacit knowledge inhabiting their fields by virtue of social immersion. It is the socialisation within the expert domain which provides the ‘deep understanding’ underpinning expertise (Collins and Evans 2007). The logical corollary of this is that a lack of socialisation within target disciplines results in the absence of a deep appreciation of what is going on in other fields. For those working on these themes in the LawLab research centre, our concern is with how these disconnects and epistemic walls manifest themselves within the field of law, and of the serious ramifications for justice. As such, a major part of our work is in developing a strong understanding where and how these problems emerge, and undertaking the detailed work necessary to develop tools for bridging a series of epistemic gaps that are now far wider, more manifest and more complex than is typically appreciated.


W G Hart 2016 Workshop, Institute for Advanced Legal Studies: Valuing Expertise: Legal, Normative and Social Dimensions – 20 September 2016 – 21 September 2016 (Academic directors: Nicky Priaulx, Richard Ashcroft and Matthew Weait). Further details are available through the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies:

Related Publications of Interest: 

Priaulx, Nicolette Michelle and Weinel, Martin 2014. Behavior on a beer mat: law, interdisciplinarity & expertise. Journal of Law, Technology & Policy 2014 (2) , pp. 361-391 

Priaulx, Nicky, 2017. ‘Reproducing the Properties of Harms that Matter: The Normative Life of the Damage Concept in Negligence’  Journal of Medical Law and Ethics, Volume 5, Number 1, pp. 17-56

Priaulx, Nicky, 2017. ‘The social life of abortion law: On personal and political pedagogy’ Medical Law Review. 1;25(1):73-98