Dr Emma Cunliffe is a Professor in the Allard School of Law and served as the Director of Research and Policy for the joint Federal-Nova Scotia Mass Casualty Commission. She will be the fourth Principal of Green College, starting in that role in 2024 while remaining cross-appointed to the Faculty of Law.
In her academic work, Dr Cunliffe studies how courts decide the facts of contested cases. She is particularly interested in expert evidence, the operation of implicit bias, and legal processes regarding gendered and racialized violence, particularly those regarding Indigenous people. Dr Cunliffe is a member of the evidence-based forensic initiative, which is based at the University of New South Wales (where she is a senior visiting fellow). Her 2011 monograph Murder, Medicine and Motherhood (Hart: Oxford, 2011) provided a comprehensive evaluation of the wrongful conviction of Australian mother Kathleen Folbigg. This book led to a review of Ms Folbigg’s case and eventually, contributed to her receiving a free pardon in June 2023.
With funding from SSHRC, Dr Cunliffe is presently analyzing how facts are “found” in Canadian trials, inquests and commissions of inquiry that engage with gendered and racialized violence. She is particularly investigating whether expert knowledge (such as forensic medicine and psychiatric testing) operates as a Trojan horse by which discriminatory knowledge and beliefs reinforce implicit and structural biases within the legal system. She is also studying examples of legal processes in which discriminatory beliefs are successfully countered. Her major work in progress is a monograph, Judging Experts. This book will explore examples of judicial engagement with expert evidence to assess how effectively Canadian legal processes ensure that expert witnesses provide independent and reliable expert testimony. Dr Cunliffe’s work is predicated on a careful analysis of trial transcripts and court records such as expert reports. She also compares experts’ work in legal cases against the research base of fields such as forensic pathology.
At the Mass Casualty Commission, Dr Cunliffe and her team were responsible for all research and policy aspects of the Commission’s work, including commissioning expert reports, planning and facilitating policy roundtables, consulting with differentially affected communities and producing an environmental scan of past inquiry reports and recommendations on matters within the Commission’s mandate. She also played an integral role in the preparation of the Commission’s Final Report.
Dr Cunliffe’s contributions to research and teaching have been recognised, including in the 2016 Courage in Law Award given by the Indigenous Law Students Association at UBC, a UBC Killam Research Fellowship (2014), the Killam Award for Teaching Excellence (2010) and the George Curtis Memorial Award for Teaching (2010).