Streamlined forensic reportingLorraine Harris
With ever-increasing cutbacks to our legal system, it’s of little surprise that the expensive area of forensic science has been targeted for cost reduction. As such, the introduction of streamlined forensic reporting (SFR) tries to introduce a more cost-effective response to the discovery of forensic material which might link a person to a crime scene.
Don’t be hasty about the ‘evidence’
While a defence advocate may, at first glance, feel that any such link may be damning for their client, it’s worthwhile knowing the steps which can be taken where doubt still arises around the circumstances of the discovery, recovery and analysis of such evidence. We’re all too quick to believe a forensic link is the first nail in the coffin – but it’s imperative that evidence be scrutinised alongside what may be a reasonable explanation for its discovery.
An important step in such analysis is understanding exactly what streamlined forensic reporting (SFR) aims to achieve.
Active case-management, in accordance with the Criminal Procedure Rules, is cited for the early identification of the issues. SFR therefore produces a short report which details what forensic evidence the Crown intend to rely upon. But the Crown Prosecution documents themselves state that they’re designed to act as a visual prompt for both prosecution and defence to identify the issues.
Identifying exactly what the defence takes issue with will trigger the prosecution to move to Stage 2. Stage 2 will provide additional information relevant to the case itself, as raised during the case-management process. However, remember that, even at stage 2, there is little evaluation of the forensic evidence. There will, of course, be cases where an abridged crime scene investigation statement is required, as well as cases where a full statement is required. These latter requests are usually more obvious – but what about some basic pointers as to what you should be asking clients on more standard cases?
Key questions to ask
- Legitimate access to places or items: the exact location and orientation of fingerprints on an item may make a big difference. Are the fingerprints found at the burglary of a public house ‘climbing-in’ marks at the point of entry, or from a moveable object, such as a beer glass?
- If the item is a tool mark which matches an instrument recovered from the client’s property, who else has access to the tools/van/premises?
- Exactly what type of DNA has been recovered – was it from visible staining?
Reducing costs and reducing delay don’t mean reducing the amount of questions we should be asking. It’s only when you look at all the circumstances of the evidence that you can decide whether an issue needs to be taken with the evidence. Sometimes, agreement of the evidence will not be damning to a defendant.
Contents of disclosure records
Photographs, working sheets or contemporaneous notes from the crime scene investigator should be included on the disclosure record – these are an invaluable source of information as to exact location and orientation of where items have been recovered from.
Separate evidence reports
It is also worth noting that if more than one type of forensic evidence is discovered, the defence should receive a separate report for each and every different type of evidence. Each of these reports should be scrutinised.
Evaluation is what matters
The streamlined forensic report is not necessarily provided by an expert. It rarely provides evaluation of the forensic evidence recovered – so be cautious of sweeping statements on the report where little or no evaluation of the evidence is provided.
Not all exhibits are analysed
Additionally, remember that not all the forensic exhibits will have been analysed. You may feel there is an item that could assist with your case, so be aware of disclosure schedules. Remember that the streamlined forensic reports don’t deal with disclosure issues; these are covered under the normal disclosure process.
And don’t just accept the SFR!
A streamlined forensic report should not be taken as read. Advocates, both prosecution and defence, should look at the supposed result upon which the reports seeks to rely and ask whether or not issue should be taken with its discovery and recovery.
Lorraine’s practice includes criminal law. She was previously head of crime-scene investigation (SOCO) for Kent Police, where she was responsible for forensic strategy and crime-scene investigation for crimes including murder, firearms offences, sexual and violent assaults, burglary, robbery, vehicle crime, criminal damage, drug offences and arson. View Lorraine’s profile.