Criticism of regulation of forensic science in UK »
Commentary on R v T»
Newspaper article on the Fingerprint Inquiry Report>>
Issued 15th December 2011
The report and recommendations of the Fingerprint Inquiry in the case of Shirley McKie has finally emerged. The report will join the very few that will have international and important repercussions for forensic practice. The Forensic Institute welcome the main findings of the report. These are similar, if not identical, to what we have been attempting to make the justice system aware of for years;
opinions are subjective and opinions of certainty are inherently unscientific (Key recommendations 1, 2, and 3)
honest error is nevertheless an error (Key findings 4 -7)
experts should record and properly disclose all of the basis of their opinion to enable a court to understand it and the defence to assess it (Recommendations 60, 61 and 64)
this includes listing all variables considered and stating whether the conclusion has been reached through training and personal experience or on any other basis such as statistical analysis (Recommendation 5); this is similar to the ruling of the Appeal Court of England and Wales regarding footwear evidence (R v T)
expert opinion should be informed by proper academic study of the subject (Recommendations 16-18)
It is clear that these principles can and will be expected to apply to all forensic practice. This will require a significant change in some areas.
We have already provided statements in other fingerprint cases over the last few years where we challenge the basis of the certainty expressed in fingerprint evidence. For example,
" It is not argued herein that fingermarks cannot provide evidence, but that there is no reliable basis for opinions of certainty, and that the fingerprint officer uses an inappropriate means of presenting the findings inasmuch as not providing any reliable guidance as to the probability that the defendant did leave the mark..."
The Fingerprint Inquiry, in conjunction with the finding of the Appeal Court in R v Smith, now provides further support for such challenges to fingerprint evidence.
For Scotland in particular, TFI have campaigned for the proper disclosure of the scientific casefiles to achieve the fairness essential for the proper functioning of the adversarial system of justice. Scotland is the only jurisdiction in the UK where all of the forensic science laboratories are owned and operated by the Police. It also has the most restrictive practice in the UK regarding disclosure and access to scientific results and files.
The Fingerprint Inquiry also makes recommendations on accreditation and training of experts. Although we endorse the need for better standards in forensic science generally, it is vital that these are underpinned by the reliable science. We are critical of the current approach in the UK (http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v464/n7293/full/4641266b.html and http://www.theforensicinstitute.com/research-network/Nature-letter-April2010.htm). Even now, that approach recommends that the scientist should, “record, retain, and reveal”, their work. ‘Reveal’ is clearly interpreted by the SPSA in a more restricted sense than elsewhere in the UK.