The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Miscarriages of Justice has announced the launch of the Westminster Commission on Forensic Science.
Over the next 18 months, a Westminster Commission inquiry, co-chaired by Baroness Sue Black and Professor Angela Gallop, will be taking evidence over a series of sessions conducted in Westminster and online. It will be seeking submissions from forensic scientists, academics, lawyers and police investigators as well as victims of miscarriage of justice and their representatives.
The reason for the inquiry was explained by Barry Sheerman MP who said:
“Our reputation as the global gold standard for forensic sciences has been badly tarnished over the last decade. [Today] we launch an investigation into the state of the sector and we do that as a result of our concern that the innocent are being wrongly convicted. The Westminster Commission on Forensic Science will shine a light on the sector and how its ‘products’ are used, and make recommendations to drive up quality and reliability in this important but overlooked corner of the justice system.”
Fellow MP Bob Neill commented:
“Over the last five years since we started our work, we have heard from lawyers specialising in criminal appeals as well as families about their concerns about the role of forensics leading to wrongful convictions and enabling the real criminals to escape scot-free.”
Forensic Scientist Angela Gallop explained that “Forensic science has now become so powerful that you don’t need to be able to see a trace of potentially relevant material to get a result from it. This means that it is increasingly important to ensure that the right tests are applied by properly trained scientists to the right items, and the results are carefully interpreted in the context of the specific case at hand. If any of this doesn’t happen, then forensic science will not only fail to prevent miscarriages of justice but is likely actively to contribute to them. Along with many other forensic scientists I am sure this is happening already. The new Westminster Commission will therefore explore all aspects of forensic science and its role in the Criminal Justice System, and identify imaginative, timely, and cost-effective ways of avoiding the serious risks to fairness and justice currently associated with its use.”
Sometimes we need to be reminded that ‘science’ is the most important word in forensic science. Robust and appropriate science requires constant testing and retesting, it needs research funding to develop and it relies heavily on practitioners who must be highly skilled, experienced and well trained. If science is to be used effectively and appropriately to support a fair and just investigative process, then there can be no tolerance for shoddy science or scientists.
As a firm, we view this as a significant development that underscores our core belief that scientific evidence must only sometimes be accepted at face value. Where we can probe and challenge scientific findings, we will not hesitate to do so.
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