45 Med. Sci. & L. 1 (2005)

handle is hein.journals/mdsclw45 and id is 1 raw text is: 

Leadbetter: Fingerprint Evidence in England and Wales - The Revised Standard 1

Fingerprint Evidence in England and Wales - The Revised

Head of the Fingerprint Bureau, Cambridgeshire Constabulary

Correspondence: Martin J Leadbetter, Fingerprint Bureau, Cambridgeshire Constabulary
Headquarters, Hinchingbrooke Park, Huntingdon, Cambs PE29 6NP
E-mail: Martin.leadbetter@cambs.pnn.police. uk

Evidence of personal identity, often based solely on
the comparison of a single finger impression, or
fragment of an impression, has been accepted by
courts of law at all levels in England and Wales since
1901, when the fingerprint system of identification
was first adopted by police forces. Fingerprint
identification is used by police forces world-wide,
not only for the identification of latent fingermarks
left at crime scenes, but also as the basis for ensuring
accuracy in the criminal record system. For more
than a century fingerprint evidence has been shown
without doubt to be the best form of personal
identification yet devised and millions of compar-
isons and subsequent identifications have been
effected world-wide without any flaw in the system
having been detected.
   From 1953-2001 it was the usual practice in
England and Wales for the police to proffer finger-
print evidence showing 16 common matching char-
acteristics, or features in agreement, between the
two impressions being compared. In 1996 the
Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) commis-
sioned a review of the existing methods of presenting
fingerprint evidence before the courts and on 11 June
2001 a new standard of fingerprint evidence was
adopted by the police forces of England and Wales.
   This paper describes how the new standard was
developed and implemented and why it was
considered necessary to move away from the existing
16-point standard.

The idea of using fingerprints (which can also
refer to prints or marks made by the thumbs,
palms, or soles of the feet) for the means of
personal identification was first adopted in the
United Kingdom in July 1901. Until this time,
there had been no truly effective and reliable
method for the identification of persistent and

habitual offenders. Consequently, the police
and the courts were often totally unaware of
whom they were dealing with, unless an officer
was able to make an identification based upon
his prior knowledge of the culprit, or had other
sources of information upon which he could
rely. Obviously this was a most unsatisfactory
situation and deprived the court system of the
opportunity to pass sentence appropriate to
the  defendant's past criminal activities.
Furthermore, the police were not always
aware of the true identity of the persons they
had in custody and it would have been quite
simple to unwittingly release an offender
charged with a minor offence, when in fact he
or she may have been wanted for a serious
offence, such as murder.
   The only other method for establishing
personal identification, apart from the use of
photographs, was that known as anthropome-
try, devised by the French scientist, Alphonse
Bertillon. Anthropometry relied upon several
comprehensive body     measurements being
carefully recorded from each offender who
had been arrested, in addition to other notice-
able personal features such as tattoos, scars,
amputations, circumcision etc. Clearly, this
method was not only time-consuming to im-
plement and update, but very unreliable and to
a large degree, subjective (see Table I).
   The system of fingerprinting was first
suggested to the Home Office by Edward
Richard Henry in 1900 following his return to
England from working in India. It was pre-
sented as his own invention although the

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