Nature | Editorial

Forensics fiasco

Inconsistent standards and a lack of research investment have left UK legal science in chaos.

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This publication is steadfast in promoting the benefits of funding for research, but even we might not say that reductions in cash for science could be allowing murderers and rapists to roam our streets. We don’t have to: Andrew Miller has said it for us.

Miller leads the combative but respected (and cross-party) science select committee in the UK House of Commons. The committee last week produced a damning report — its second in just over three years — on the state of forensic science in the country. In his alarming sound bite, Miller neatly summarized the need for urgent government action, including dedicated funds for research into better sleuthing methods.

The British system is a perfect case study of a wider forensics malaise. The Forensic Science Service, which provided services to police forces across the nation, was subjected to a disastrous attempt at privatization before being closed in March 2012. Police laboratories have inconsistent standards, and private companies have been asked to fill the gap.

The problems that Miller’s committee identifies are long-standing. But this time the politicians have upped the rhetorical ante, expressing concern that the minister responsible for forensic science “appeared to have so little understanding of the subject”.

The shortcomings in this field are not restricted to the United Kingdom. In February, the US Department of Justice announced a new National Commission on Forensic Science that will develop guidance across the spectrum of forensics, from courtroom to laboratory, on matters such as professional codes. It is sorely needed: just last month, the Department of Justice announced that more than 2,000 criminal cases were being reviewed because of problems with hair-sample analysis. Forensic science holds great power over the lives and liberty of individuals. Now it must reclaim its great responsibility.

Journal name:
Nature
Volume:
500,
Pages:
5
Date published:
()
DOI:
doi:10.1038/500005b

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