The House of Lords Science and Technology Committee Forensic science inquiry

The House of Lords Science and Technology Committee is currently undertaking an inquiry into forensic science. On the 30 October LRCFS Director Professor Niamh Nic Daeid and LRCFS Advisory Board Member Professor Dame Sue Black delivered evidence to the committee.

The full transcripts of evidence given and recording of the hearing are available to read and view on the House of Lords Inquiry website.

In their written evidence they put forward that further research is required to make sure that the scientific evidence presented in the courtroom is robust. The question raised by Professor Dame Sue Black was, who should lead and own this research? Should it be universities (but what is the incentive for them when Forensic Science isn’t funded as a research discipline) or the forensic science practitioners?

Professor Niamh Nic Daeid added that the research should be led by the universities who have the expertise in conducting research. She highlighted the collaborative approach of the LRCFS to tackle challenges and look to the future through strategic conversations. These bring together researchers, practitioners, the judiciary, industry, and scientists and others to build new research roadmaps and directions for research exploration. The conversations also bring together other fields and disciplines where we can draw on new ideas for the application of science within the justice system.

Professor Dame Sue Black highlighted that we need more honest discussion about what we know in forensic science and what we don’t. The judicial primers (produced with the Royal Society and Royal Society of Edinburgh) are starting to tackle the problem of connecting judges with forensic science techniques and outlining the strengths and weaknesses of evidence types.

The question of how research funding is secured for this area in the UK was raised and the view put forward by both was that it is about interdisciplinary rather than forensic science specific funding calls, with a prompt within research applications to show how new research avenues might be applied to forensic science.

The scientific inquiry is covering four broad areas:

  • the forensic science research landscape,
  • the use of forensic science in the Criminal Justice System,
  • standards and regulation, and
  • digital forensics.

The inquiry will look at what new research programmes are needed in forensic science; the level of understanding within the criminal justice system and what routes are available to improve understanding; the performance of the market for forensic services in the UK; and the detection, recovery, integrity, storage and interpretation of evidence from digital devices and networks.