Forensic science is in crisis – and this could have critical effects on UK legal system
British scientists played a major role in developing key technologies and techniques for global legal systems. These tools – such as fingerprint and DNA analysis – reveal relationships between individuals, objects and locations involved in a crime. But, as the importance of forensic science and technology for the legal system continues to increase, there are major concerns about the survival of the institutions engaged in such work and the integrity with which it is used.
Today’s problems may not be of the same magnitude as forensic science failures of the 20th century. For example, at the 1975 trial of the Birmingham Six, forensic science evidence contributed to wrongful convictions for murder. But the crises we are now seeing, especially failures to follow rules to make trials fair and the incorrect reporting of test results, seriously harm peoples’ lives.
The first issue – failure by the prosecution to disclose evidence that might assist an accused person’s defence – threatens the fairness of a trial. Poor disclosure practices have been recognised as a problem by judges and defence lawyers for years. It was highlighted in five reviews between 2011 and 2017. Some people have been wrongly imprisoned due to such failures. And, as the legal system has become more reliant on science and technology disclosure, failures have increasingly resulted from errors when dealing with technical evidence. ..Read more..