Concerns about poor quality scientific evidence leading to miscarriages of justice in Australia raised by Justice Chris Maxwell, President of the Victorian Court of Appeal were reported in The Sydney Morning Herald. This view was shared by Mr Daniel Gurvich, QC, chair of the Criminal Bar Association of Victoria. However, these criticisms were rejected by the director of the Australia and New Zealand National [sic] Institute of Forensic Science (NIFS) a directorate within the Australia and New Zealand Policing Advisory Agency (ANZPAA); so probably not an impartial view!
Proteomics works backward to DNA. A new technique called proteomics analyses proteins to infer DNA sequences. Hair has very little DNA, but more than enough protein (mostly keratin) for analysis. By looking at variant amino acids in keratin, researchers can identify single-nucleotide polymorphisms, or SNPs, in the underlying DNA. That information can be used for both personal identification and to get information on ancestry.
The final article of a series of six is published in The Washington Post. In the article headed �How do we improve forensics� several leading forensic scientists record their recommendations for improving forensic science. The main one being greater separation between forensic science providers and police/prosecutors. Others included highlighting the non-scientific nature of feature comparison disciplines such as fingerprints and some bias avoidance measures.
Based on the HoL �Blueprint� report Hannah Devlin of The Guardian claims that [UK] forensic science providers are on the brink of collapse.
The UK House of Lords� Science and Technology Committee publishes its report, “Forensic science and the criminal justice system: a blueprint for change�. The 66-page report raises concerns about the stability of the forensic science market in England & Wales and its effect on the quality of scientific evidence. Also, of concern was the (often) prohibitive cost of accreditation. However, the requirement for accreditation to the appropriate ISO standard (ISO/IEC 17025 and 17020) was considered beneficial. The cuts to legal aid were also recognised as having a negative impact on justice.
The UK Home Office publishes a 13-point action plan to improve police forensics including making forensic science providers adhere to the quality standards set by the Forensic Science Regulator.
In her annual report the Forensic Science Regulator reiterated her call for statutory enforcement powers. The Regulator has urged the Home Office to put forward legislation to enable her to enforce quality standards.
The “Accreditation of Forensic Service Providers Regulations 2018” came into force.
The “Accreditation of Forensic Service Providers Regulations 2018” was laid before the UK parliament. This statutory instrument requires the providers of fingerprint and DNA evidence to be accredited to an International Standard such is ISO/IEC 17025.
Bite-mark evidence is inherently unreliable concludes a dentist and researcher writes in the latest Journal of Forensic and Legal Medicine. The unsupported comparison of such bite marks left in human skin during rapes, murders and other violent attacks should be excluded. In his article, Seth Augenstein explores the weaknes of this evidence type which has been recognised since 2009 in the NRC Report “Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward”.
Forensic science “on the cheap” is a false economy. According to Rebecca Trager of Chemistry World the final cost of forensic chemist’s misconduct still being counted. Massachusetts highest court has dismissed thousands more criminal drug cases because of the actions of forensic chemist Sonja Farak. Farak was convicted in 2014, after pleading guilty to tampering with drug evidence, stealing illegal drugs from her lab that had been seized by police and cocaine possession. The additional criminal drug cases resulted in wrongful convictions and must be vacated and dismissed because of her misconduct.
David Sullivan, district attorney for Massachusetts’ north-western district, said he hopes the court ruling represents “the final chapter in a sad tale of a rogue chemist” and a “substandard” state drug lab. “It reflects a decades-long attitude that drug testing for criminal cases could be done on the cheap,” Sullivan said.
Many forensic experts agree that cost-cutting at forensics labs has allowed problems to fester, and enabled a crisis of faith in the field.
Josh Lee, a criminal defence attorney in Oklahoma who is the forensic science co-chair for the American Chemical Society’s chemistry and the law division, agrees. “There always seems to be this scapegoat of one person who did something bad, but then you find out that they have been doing this for years,” he tells Chemistry World. “It is a systemic, lab-wide failure of quality assurance.”
The Forensic Specialities Accreditation Board plans to conform to ISO17011 “Conformity assessment — General requirements for accreditation bodies accrediting conformity assessment bodies’ for the purpose of accrediting former certification bodies (now conformity assessment bodies) to ISO17024 “Conformity assessment — General requirements for bodies operating certification of persons”.
UK Randox Testing Services found to be delivering questionable results of poor-quality alleged data manipulation going back to 2013 affecting more than 10,000 criminal cases. Employees found to be responsible had formerly been employed by the company Trimega which provide unreliable evidence in the family court. Trimega was the subject of judicial censure for presenting erroneous scientific evidence.
PCAST Report published casting doubt on the validity of so called feature comparison disciplines such as hair, fingerprints, foot wear and toolmarks and calling for empirical studies to address the issues raised.
Following on from the January 2014 report below there has been some positive developments in the USA, raising hopes of a significant improvement in the quality forensic science in its jurisdictions and elsewhere. The Innocence Project, the recent changes in DNA profiling methodology and the issues with hair evidence provide continuing evidence that forensic science still has still some way to go in the USA before fully addressing the concerns raised in the 2009 NAS report.
Two major recommendations in the NAS report were;
- the establishment of a National Institute of Forensic Science (NIFS), and
- the removal of all American forensic science laboratories from law enforcement “administrative control.”
Many commentators thought both recommendations were “dead on arrival”. However, as reported earlier, the US Department of Justice and National Institute of Standards together formed the National Commission on Forensic Sciences (NIFS in all but name).
The National Commission on Forensic Sciences has this month published a series of draft recommendations and views which, if put into effect, would result in a sea change in forensic practice within the USA and, given their nature and the increasing importance of standards harmonisation between jurisdictions, more widely.
The titles of these documents are listed below to give a sense of their importance and scope. More will surely follow.
- Directive Recommendation on the National Code of Professional Responsibility
- Directive Recommendations on the Transparency of Quality Management System Documents
- Views Document on Establishing Foundational Literature within the Forensic Science Disciplines
- Recommendation to Fund Post-Doctoral Projects to Facilitate Translation of Research into Forensic Science Practice
- Views Document on Proficiency Testing in Forensic Science
- Views Document on Critical Steps to Accreditation
- Views Document on Using the Term Reasonable Degree of Scientific Certainty
The enforcement of a code of practice for forensic scientists and a requirement that quality management documents should be readily accessible to the public are, in my opinion, the two most likely to have a major impact if implemented.
However, all these proposals are likely to face stiff opposition from parties benefiting from the status quo.
Sean Doyle is commissioned by Elsevier to write the first standard text on quality management in forensic science.
Sean Doyle provides expert input for a Thompson Reuters report on the Bangkok bombing.
Sean Doyle invited to participate in a proposed Channel 4 (UK) documentary on the investigation and prosecution of those convicted of the 21/7 (2005) attacks in London.
Sean Doyle accepts invitation to act as session chair at the ANZFSS 23rd International Symposium on the Forensic Sciences. The 6th FIRMS Conference will be held in conjunction with this symposium.
Sean Doyle interviewed by BBC Northern Ireland’s Spotlight Program about the involvement of the UK Security Services in the deaths of citizens.
In early 2009 the United States National Academies of Sciences (NAS) published a report entitled “ STRENGTHENING FORENSIC SCIENCE IN THE UNITED STATES: A PATH FORWARD”. The NAS report exposed weakness in the scientific basis of all but DNA evidence and sent shock waves through the world-wide forensic science community. Much has been written and debated in response to the report but there has been little progress towards enacting its recommendations aimed at improving the quality of forensic evidence.
Its first recommendation was to establish an independent federal entity, the National Institute of Forensic Science (NIFS). It is ironic to note that in December 2010 the UK government decided to close the Forensic Science Service, a near equivalent to the institute recommended in the NAS report.
After five years there is now some progress to report. The US Department of Justice (DOJ) and the National Institute of Standards (NIST) have created a National Commission of Forensic Science. The new entity is charged with determining how the recommendations in the NAS report might be enacted.
Unfortunately, it seems this initial flicker of hope may be quickly extinguished. There is no new funding. The decision to enact any recommendations made by the new commission based on the recommendations in the NAS report will rest elsewhere; the US Attorney General and federal forensic science laboratories, agencies involved in prosecuting crime. In addition, the weaknesses in forensic science highlighted by the NAS report generally favour the prosecution, i.e. are more likely to result in a wrongful conviction rather than a wrongful acquittal. Therefore, it seems unlikely that real further progress will be made.
One consolation might be that the Commission’s recommendations will be made public and that may force change.
However, the NAS report remains one of the most comprehensive and scholarly reviews of forensic science conducted to date and provides lawyers, accreditors and legislators with a rich vein of material.
The Law Commission of England & Wales publishes report No.325 concerning the admissibility of expert (scientific) evidence. This report is probably the most comprehensive and detailed statement of the issues relating to the reliability of scientific evidence. Unfortunately the proposed solutions are unlikely to be given effect.
One of the most effective checks on the reliability of scientific evidence is to ensure that it is independently scrutinised and its validity has been confirmed. Linked Forensic Consultants offers the required experience and expertise.