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The paradigm shift for UK Forensic Science

The 2-3rd February 2015 saw a scientific discussion meeting at The Royal Society, organized by Professor Sue Black, and Professor Niamh Nic Daeid.

While the title of the event was ‘The paradigm shift for UK forensic science” it was a global event with representatives from the USA, Australia, Switzerland, the Netherlands, the Republic of Ireland, Israel and others. There were representatives from many UK universities, police forces and forensic science providers.

The first session was chaired by Andrew Miller MP, Chair of the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee. The day started with an introduction from Profs. Black and Nic Daeid, highlighting why there is a need for a paradigm shift in forensic science. Professor Keith Inman then discussed what the future holds for science at the crime scene and raised the issue of whether forensic scientists should be more involved in crime scene reconstructions. He also made a point, that was reiterated by several of the speakers ,that the media and television programmes have resulted in incorrect preconceptions of forensic science and its capabilities and therefore there is a need to re-educate the public.

Professor Christophe Champod from the University of Lausanne gave a presentation on developments in fingerprint identification, while Professor Claude Roux from the University of Technology discussed the changes in the field of trace evidence.

The second session of the day was chaired by Sue Ballou, Program Manager for Forensic Science with the Office of Special Programs at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). Dr Kenneth Furton from Florida International University discussed advances in analytical forensic science with a focus on canine detection and how in nearly all circumstances technology has not yet overtaken detection dogs.

The focus then shifted to DNA analysis with Dr John Butler from NIST giving a presentation on the future of forensic DNA analysis.

Dr Stephan Bolliger from the Institute of Forensic Medicine at the University of Zurich gave a fascinating, if gruesome at times, talk about imaging and virtual autopsy and the developments being made in this area.

To finish the day Professor Anil Jain from Michigan State University discussed how to bridge the gap between biometrics and forensics.

The first session of the second day was chaired by Dr Üllar Lanno from the European Network of Forensic Science Institutes (ENFSI). The first speaker of the day was Dr Itiel Dror from UCL. He gave a presentation on how cognitive neuroscience can aid forensic science, covering a range of topics including cognitive bias and improving recruitment.

Dr Ian Evett from Principle Forensic Services Ltd discussed the challenges in the logical foundations of forensic science, including covered Bayes Theorem and its application. Professor Arian van Asten from the Netherlands Forensic Institute and the University of Amsterdam raised the issue of the use of technology in forensic science and how the increased use of technology could result in a paradigm shift.

Professor Alastair Ross from the National Institute of Forensic Science (NIFS) gave a presentation on how to integrate research into operational practice, or rather highlighted some of the barriers to achieving this. This presentation served as a reminder of the usefulness of the SIG’s guide to taking R&D to market.

The afternoon session was chaired by Dr Daniel Martell, President of the American Academy of Forensic Science. The first talk of this session was given by Dr Justice Tettey from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and focused on new psychoactive substances and how they are forcing forensic scientists to rethink the way they are handled and analysed. Professor Paul Roberts from the University of Nottingham then gave a law perspective on the forensic science field and where the boundaries of law and forensic science meet.

Professor Sir Geoffrey Nice QC then gave a presentation based on his experience of prosecuting for the UN and the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. He highlighted the importance of not working in isolation, and using collaboration both within and outside specific disciplines to take forensic science forward. The final speaker was the Rt Hon Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales who discussed the legal framework for sounder forensic science evidence and reiterated the calls for the Forensic Science Regulator to be given more formal powers.

The two days of discussion were concluded with a lively Q&A session with Profs. Nic Daeid and Black.

These two days were then followed by a further two days of invite only discussions to take the issues raised forward.

Audio from the presentations was recorded and should be made available on The Royal Society website. The papers produced by the presenters will be made available in a future edition of Philosophical Transactions B.

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