41 Med. Sci. & L. 1 (2001)

handle is hein.journals/mdsclw41 and id is 1 raw text is: 




Editorial: Standards in Evidence 1


Editorial: Standards in Evidence


PROFESSOR EVELYN EBSWORTH
Chairman of the Council for the Registration of Forensic Practitioners


There  are few things as likely to bring the
criminal justice system into disrepute as the
discovery that a forensic practitioner has been
incompetent   in bringing their findings  to
court.
   Recent questions over the objectivity of fin-
gerprint evidence, the use and abuse of stored
DNA  data and their statistical interpretation,
and the validity of psychological profiling have
led to questions in public about the reliability
of forensic evidence and the integrity and com-
petence of those who deliver it. This is most
serious, particularly at a time when scientific
evidence, properly used, has an immense  po-
tential to  support  the fair and  effective
administration of justice.

EXPERTISE IN   THE  COURTROOM
The  courts rely on the truth of the evidence
they  receive from  pathologists, police sur-
geons, scientists, fingerprint examiners and
some 40 or more professions who take such evi-
dence to court.
   In the courtroom there is a natural desire
for certainty - a certainty which can rarely, if
ever, be guaranteed. The courts and the public
understand   this. They accept that experts'
opinions, for the best of reasons, sometimes
differ. But the image of the expert witness as a
'hired gun' can be a difficult one to throw off.
   The court calls in an expert because it lacks
expertise in a particular field. By definition,
then, the court is not in the best position to
judge who  is competent to deliver evidence in
that field. So the courts - and, through them,
the  public - need expert help to make  that
judgement.  That is what  the Council for the


Registration of Forensic Practitioners (CRFP)
has been set up to give.


WHAT  IS THE CRFP?
The  CRFP  is a new, independent regulatory
body. Its objective is to promote public confi-
dence in forensic practice in the UK. We will
achieve this by:
*  publishing a register of competent forensic
   practitioners;
*  ensuring through periodic revalidation that
   forensic practitioners keep up to date and
   maintain competence; and
*  dealing with registered practitioners who
   fail to meet the necessary standards.
There is no doubt that the high profile miscar-
riages of justice in the 1970s aroused serious
public concern: the quality of justice was per-
ceived to be at stake. The public saw the in-
creasingly important role science was playing
in the courtroom - a role that has expanded
significantly since that time. The forensic com-
munity, to its credit, acknowledged the need to
assure quality and much work was done to se-
cure appropriate standards in the way forensic
science is delivered.
   The  accreditation of individual practitio-
ners is the logical next step. CRFP is setting
out to do something that appears not to have
been  tried in this form anywhere else before:
the validation, by an assessor external to the
practitioner's organization but from within the
appropriate field, of the current competence of
individual specialists using structured crite-
ria, leading to registration for a period of four
years, at the end of which revalidation will be
required.

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