Call for Evidence

In recent years concerns have been raised about the state of forensic science in the UK, particularly in England and Wales, including by the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee in 2013, the National Audit Office in 2015 and the Forensic Science Regulator in January 2018.

A Call for Evidence was made on 23 July 2018 by the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee. The inquiry aims to look at the contribution forensic science makes to the delivery of justice in the UK and its strengths and weaknesses in doing so. It explores the understanding and use of forensic evidence in the criminal justice system and how this evidence can be used effectively and robustly throughout the process.

Summary of the Turing’s submission

The authors note that forensic science is contributing to the delivery of justice in the UK, but that it is also contributing to injustices, particularly those caused by errors of probabilistic and statistical reasoning. The statistical aspects of forensic evidence are often either simply overlooked (because they are considered too difficult) or poorly presented by both lawyers and forensic scientists.

The authors identify three areas where more work is needed in order to improve the scientific evidence base for the use of forensic techniques in the investigation and prosecution of crimes: mitigating the limitations of forensic databases, evaluating the probative (affording proof or evidence) value of DNA evidence, and assessing the combined weight of all pieces of evidence.

The authors also note that statistical analyses and results are difficult to communicate to an audience that does not have prior knowledge of statistics. It is recommended that exceptional care is required to communicate the meaning of complex probabilistic and statistical analyses of forensic evidence in court in a way that is understandable to judges, lawyers, and juries, as the current level of understating of forensic science among lawyers, judges, and juries is poor.

The authors provide two major justifications for further research funding for forensic science: improved efficiency in the criminal justice system and reducing the incidence of miscarriages of justice. Lastly the authors recognise that digital forensics has become a principal strand of forensic science, however it is increasingly easy to artificially generate digital data, such as video and speech. Whilst standards exist, adoption is not widespread, and they do not cover all components of the digital forensic process. The authors call on governments to facilitate and encourage industry to invest more in standards development and deployment.

Turing affiliated authors