Streamlined Forensic Reporting: 'Swift and sure justice'?

Karen Richmond

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Abstract

The Criminal Justice System Efficiency Program aims to deal ‘promptly and efficiently’ with ‘lowlevel, straightforward cases’ in order to dispense ‘swift and sure justice’. To meet these objectives, the Ministry of Justice places a duty on defence solicitors to reduce the ‘costs and delay associated with forensic evidence’. It justifies its requirements with reference to the Criminal Procedure Rules, highlighting the need for solicitors to actively manage criminal cases, to take part in pre-trial hearings and to engage with forensic evidence through a new form of discourse: Streamlined Forensic Reporting (SFR). The SFR scheme operates ‘by taking a more proportionate approach to forensic evidence through the early preparation of a short report that details the key forensic evidence the prosecution intends to rely upon’. The aim is to avoid the costs associated with thorough forensic analysis by encouraging an early guilty plea. In circumstances where such a plea cannot be elicited, the scheme aims to secure agreement on forensic issues at the earliest stage. It places an obligation on the defence to identify these problematic areas. Drawing on comparative ethnographic research within the forensic science and criminal justice sectors, this article questions the safety or utility of these attenuated and instrumental forms of ‘efficient’ forensic discourse. It demonstrates that streamlined reports are often compiled by non-expert administrators, lack contextual evaluation or technical explanation and are frequently inaccurate or misleading. It asks whether the veiled and incremental approach to the issue of disclosure forms an adequate basis for proper scrutiny or legal challenge, and questions whether this scheme, which exhibits a marked ambivalence towards forensic expertise, may ultimately subvert the duty placed on the courts to place forensic evidence in its proper context.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)156-177
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of Criminal Law
Volume82
Issue number2
Early online date11 May 2018
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2018

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Keywords

  • Evidence
  • Forensics
  • DNA

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