Forensic Analysis – Accreditation Vs Experience

In February 2007 Gene Morrison, a resident of Hyde, Manchester, was jailed for deceiving the UK legal system and posing as a genuine forensic scientist. In 26 years he worked on over 700 cases, all of which will now have to be reassessed as miscarriages of justice may have occurred. At this time there was no governing body to regulate the validity of forensic scientists across the UK, allowing Morrison to buy his fake qualifications from a fraudulent university. When Morrison began this facade, in 1977, he had purchased a BSc in forensic science, a Masters with Excellence in Forensic Investigation and a Doctorate in Criminology, and when asked why he had faked his qualifications in court Morrison responded with “Looked easier”.

All forensic science services used to be conducted by the Forensic Science Service (FSS), however, recently many services can now be provided by different independent companies. Due to this a recommendation from the Parliamentary Science and Technology Committee prepared the role of the Forensic Science Regulator and presented it to the Government. The idea was that the Regulator would be an independent body that would ensure that the same qualities of services were adhered to across the UK in relation to forensic science services to the Criminal Justice Service (CJS).

The Regulator is advised by the Forensic Science Advisory Committee (FSAC), all members of which have a broad amount of skill and experience to call upon when needed. Some of the decisions that the FSAC would make would be to “validate and approve new technologies and applications in the field of forensic science” (Operational Policing, 2009). At present there are 16 members on the committee, all of which are from different departments of forensic science and legal background.

In November 1997 the Council for the Registration of Forensic Practitioners (CRFP) was set up after a recommendation by the Forensic Science Working Group (FSWG), Chairman Lord Jack Lewis. Lord Lewis stated that an independent registration council should be established for forensic practitioners, to allow the public and Courts to gain confidence that the forensic scientist giving evidence was fully qualified and up to the standards needed to be a legitimate expert witness.

Prior to 31st March 2009, the CRFP was known to be the main body in the field of forensic regulation of individuals to ensure that the correct and legitimate legal information was given in forensic science-aided cases, and to guarantee that there were no miscarriages of justice, as with Morrison. It had 2730 individual registrants, some of whom were registered in more than one forensic field, with approximately 30 new forensic practitioners joining each month. Each individual registered had to have their membership revalidated every 4 years, to ensure that their practice was up to date with the quality standards. The CRFP registration covered all aspects of the legal system, from the defense to the prosecution, as well as elements outside the criminal justice system, such as the civil and family courts.

The CRFP did not however cater for all of the forensic practitioners, for example those who did not attend court on a regular basis. To be considered for registration, an applicant needed to have proof of a certain number of court attendances. This meant that some forensic practitioners, such as Forensic Archaeologists, would never be able to become registered, as there were not as many relevant cases that entered the courts compared to say Forensic Toxicologists or DNA experts. Even though the CRFP was considering extending a form of registration to trainee forensic scientists, this still did not cover the disciplines that did not enter into the court system, which may have lead to the assumption that these people were not legitimate in the view of the CJS.

So to review, it is clear that the CRFP’s form of accreditation was essential for expert witnesses but not generic for all forensic practitioners, and seemed to be segregating legitimate practitioners for illegitimate reasons. Non-expert witness forensic scientists only had the option of being members of forensic societies, rather than receiving accreditation for their role. The changeover on 31st March to accreditation being monitored by the Forensic Science Regulator and Chief Executive of the NPIA (National Policing Improvement Agency), will hopefully provide an accreditation that will apply to all forensic practitioners equally.