Friday, July 12, 2019 - 13:00 to 14:00
Room 249, Law Building, UNSW Kensington.

Speaker: Professor Michael Nesbitt, Faculty of Law, University of Calgary

RSVP to by 5 July 2019.

A light lunch will be provided. Please advise of any dietary requirements / restrictions.


The complexities of modern terrorism trials require that expert witnesses be called to provide evidence and explain the intricacies of the case to the courts. Financial, technical, and psychological expertise are regularly called upon in the course of terrorism trials, as is evidence about religion, the nature and tactics of foreign groups, and the proper translation of texts. This expertise is needed at each stage of the trial process, including to help determine whether technological evidence is sufficiently reliable to be admitted, whether a group should properly be labelled a “terrorist entity” as defined by Canada’s Criminal Code, or the offender’s prospects for rehabilitation and/or reintegration into society.

This paper offers the first empirical breakdown of all terrorism trials in Canada that have made use of expert evidence, with a particular view to the types of expert evidence used, which party is using it and how, and whether it is ultimately relied upon by the judges. It considers the judicial treatment of experts and attempts to identify where they have been particularly useful or influential to judicial decisions, where the court and/or lawyers might make better use of experts, and what type of social science expertise in particular might be needed in future trials. The results will provide a better understanding of terrorism trials in Canada and the role that expert evidence plays in shaping the law, the facts, and ultimately the judicial findings; it also hopes to connect lawyers to the academic study of terrorism and vice versa, that is, to inform those engaged in the academic study of terrorism about when and how that study might help be of assistance to the prosecution or defence of accused terrorists. 


Michael is an Assistant Professor at the University of Calgary, Faculty of Law, where he teaches and researches in the areas of criminal law, evidence, national security law, and human rights. Before joining the Faculty of Law in July 2015 he practised law and worked on Middle East policy, human rights, international sanctions and terrorism for Global Affairs Canada. Previously, he completed his articles and worked for Canada's Department of Justice, where his focus was criminal law. Michael has also worked internationally for the United Nations' International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in the Appeals Chamber. While completing his doctorate, Michael was a SSHRC Joseph-Armand Bombardier CGS Scholar, executive editorial assistant to the University of Toronto Law Journal, and taught in the legal research and writing program.


Co-hosted by the Gilbert + Tobin Centre of Public Law, UNSW, and the Centre for Crime, Law and Justice, UNS