and Head of the Forensic Toxicology Section
) at St George’s Hospital Medical School
London writes about the development and practice of forensic science ...
In absolute terms, the phrase ‘forensic science’ means science that is applied to legal matters. The word ‘forensic’ itself originates from the Latin word ‘forum’ which during the Hellenistic and Roman times was the general assembly where all facts of criminal or disturbing behaviour were discussed in the open and verdicts were reached regarding the suspects involved.
modern times, forensic scientists are highly specialised individuals who get
involved with the investigation of crimes and accidents.
They do so by focusing on the recognition,
identification and individualisation
of physical evidence at the scene of interest so that they can enable themselves
to offer the best possible reconstruction
of what took place to the police, solicitors, judge or to the members of the
day in the life of a forensic scientist may include the examination of hairs,
fibres, paint, soil, blood, semen or other bodily fluids, plant and animal
matter, weapons and tools and their impressions, questioned documents, etc.
These and many more items of physical evidence are examined in order to:
determine that a crime has indeed taken place (the Corpus Delicti),
the perpetrator’s Modus Operandi,
contact between a victim and a suspect,
contact between a person and a scene,
or disprove a witness’ testimony, and
Forensic scientists, like most other pure scientists, heavily rely on the scientific method for their work. The first step is the observation and collection of data.
Forensic scientists always look for data either at the scene or in the laboratory – physical evidence that needs to be recognised, protected and collected. The next step is the conjecture of the collected data – where physical evidence is analysed using some basic tests. Once forensic scientists have completed this step, they may formulate a hypothesis as to what this physical evidence is and how it came to be where it was discovered.
The next step is the testing of this hypothesis – which usually results in minor or major adjustments of the initial hypothesis. If the revised hypothesis can than withstand testing from all different angles and scientists and can account for all the data observed, then it becomes a theory.
forensic scientists always present their theory as to what happened at the scene
based on the physical evidence they examine.
In the United Kingdom, on-the-job training of forensic scientists has extensively been used but there also exist several higher education institutions where one can formally be trained in forensic science at an undergraduate of postgraduate level. Both these routes into forensic science are well established and are considered as complementary.
experience and co-operation are all needed if we are to continue building on
what pioneers such as Locard from
France and Kirk from the USA have
started in the field of forensic science.
For information on training in forensic science follow this link ...Forensic Science Educational Resource Homepage