Forensic Science is not perfect.

And I can’t think of a single person working in the industry who would claim that it is. I can’t speak for those working in Forensic Medicine, but I am confident they don’t make the same claim.

The only people who claim forensic science is perfect are the TV show which portray forensic scientists as young and glamours or older and wiser and often crotchety.

At the other end of the scale are those who continue to declare like Chicken Little that the sky is falling in.

The practice of forensic science is extremely diverse and falls within these two extremes. There is also no one size fits all operating model that fits every laboratory or discipline. Claims that there are, are misleading.

In Australia, we are currently working through the recommendations of the ‘Commission of Inquiry into Forensic DNA testing in Queensland’ . The UK has just launched another enquiry into Forensic Science – ‘the Westminster Commission on Forensic Science ’ only four years after the Science and Technology Select Committee published its report into ‘Forensic Science and the criminal justice system: a blueprint for change’

And the problematic Department of Forensic Sciences’ laboratory in Washington DC hits the news again. The laboratory has been reviewed, reorganized, reviewed and reorganized numerous times since it was opened in 2012.

In the UK the Forensic Science Regulator has just published a Statutory Code of Practice for forensic science activities . The UK also has the Criminal Cases review Commission .

In Victoria, we have the “Expert Evidence in Criminal Trials’ Practice Note

With all these reviews, commissions, inquiries, guidance documents why can we get it ‘right’?

The closure of the Forensic Science Service in 2012 provides a classic example of two of the major issues facing forensic science providers. When I commenced working in forensic science in 1988 the FSS in the UK was THE forensic science service and the research produced there was second to none. The Service provide forensic science expertise not only across the UK but across the world. Initially, the Service was an executive agency within government, it then became a government-owned company and in 2010 the UK Government announced the closure of the FSS, citing monthly losses of up to £2m as justification.

So what are the two issues?

Forensic Science is a SERVICE. The stakeholders in forensic science are law enforcement, the justice system, victims of crime and alleged offenders. And more widely the whole community.

And as a service, forensic science requires support – structurally and financially We recognize that law enforcement and the justice system provide a service. Schools and hospitals also provide a service.

And until Forensic Science (and law enforcement, the justice system, schools and hospitals) receive the support they require to operate optimally, we, the community will receive a suboptimal service.

Think about – what is sacrificed when there are unrealistic completing demands – doing more with less, unrealistic caseloads and turnaround times and unrealistic expectations (thankyou CSI). It is the underpinning support mechanisms:
• Research
• Training
• Quality

And time to think. One of the most (and least technological) skills a scientist uses is thought. And this takes time. It’s not something you can do if you are swapped with cases and deadlines.

As I indicated previously forensic science has undergone and is currently undergoing multiple reviews but rearranging the chairs (as on the Titanic) will not solve the problem.

The delivery of Forensic Science service is a wonderful example of a ‘Wicked Problem’ a problem that is:
• difficult or impossible to solve because of incomplete, contradictory, and changing requirements
• where there is no single solution to the problem;
• where the effort to solve one aspect of a wicked problem may reveal or create other problems and
• stakeholders have radically different world views and different frames for understanding the problem.

The answer – I don’t have one, but I think we all need to take a step back and take a deep breath.

And stop pointing fingers.