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Forensic science should service the criminal justice system and victims

Robert Green OBE, Senior Lecturer in Forensic Science at the University of Kent, believes the recent Science and Technology Committee report paints a chaotic picture of the landscape for forensic provision and highlights a number of problems associated with cost-effectiveness, quality, and research and development.

He said: ‘The whole purpose of forensic science is to service the needs of justice but despite this we have no data or evidence to support the cost effectiveness where forensic science yields guilty pleas and avoids court costs, as well as prevents victims reliving their experiences.

‘To ensure that the forensic science service fulfills its purpose there are still key issues to be addressed. Firstly, there needs to be more transparency over costs. More money is being spent by the police internally on their own measures than the amount spent by external providers. This could cast doubt over the entire service. We are seeing the police resorting to growing their in-house capability, and despite forensic science providing a neutral support to the criminal justice system, we could see successful legal defences being based upon the quality of forensic science because it is derived internally by the police.

‘Secondly, the report points out that several forces have failed to make sufficient progress towards the same quality standards as external labs can. If the majority of forensic science is now undertaken in-house, as things stand, a large proportion of UK forensic science is likely to fall below the high standards for quality imposed by external forensic science providers.

‘Finally, there is a question mark over who will support the next generation of research and development within the field. The UK is falling behind in its exploitation of research in forensics and as technologies become outdated this adds further risk to the effectiveness of the criminal justice system and the service we provide to victims. Despite archived material currently being at the forefront of major breakthroughs in cold cases, no new cases are being added which will result in a significant decline in effectiveness of this resource with full effects likely to be felt for many years to come.

‘Forensic science is best judged in terms of service to the criminal justice system and service to victims, but these benefits are unknown or at least obscure. The true impact in terms of victims or those wrongly accused is only beginning to emerge.’

Robert Green OBE has over twenty-five years’ experience working in the field of forensic science, teaching, scientific support and policing study. He is a senior lecturer in forensic science in the University’s School of Physical Sciences.


Story published at 4:35pm 25 July 2013

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Last Updated: 12/06/2013