Biology Casework - Streamlined Forensic Reporting - Guidance Document

Index

Introduction


The SFR process is now enshrined in the Criminal Justice system in England and Wales, supported by the Better Case Management initiative and is aligned with the ENFSI Guideline for Evaluative Reporting1 recommendations. These guidelines build on the AFSP Standards for the formulation of evaluative forensic science opinion2.

ENFSI’s objectives include aims to improve and standardise the evaluation of forensic laboratory findings and to improve the quality standards underpinning forensic reports across European forensic science laboratories. The SFR process goes hand-in-hand with these objectives;

  • enabling the identification of the key issues of contention at the earliest stage,
  • allowing rapid progression to the evaluation phase of those key issues in a streamlined and structured manner,
  • providing the stakeholders in the Criminal Justice System with the forensic expert’s considered opinion addressing specifically the issues relevant to the case, at the appropriate level; whether that be the source of a questioned material, or the manner or mechanism by which it was deposited,
  • capturing the value of the laboratory findings expressed in a manner that is understandable to a wide range of users.

The outcome of this streamlined reporting approach will be a more efficient and therefore a more cost effective use of forensic expertise within the CJS.

The use of the SFR process for DNA intelligence, produced as a result of a National DNA Database match, is now well established and so the point has come to extend the use further into all other Biology Casework. This brings its own challenges; conveying the true strength of a complex set of scientific tests, each test with its own limitations and caveats, in the context of each case and at the most appropriate level in a simple yet accurate way, without being left open to misinterpretation by the reader. There is also the challenge of how certain biological tests might impinge upon or compromise other tests, necessitating continued high quality Case Assessment and Interpretation (‘CAI’), taking the needs of each individual case into account at the earliest opportunity to ensure the most appropriate tests are carried out at key stages in the case.

[1] ENFSI Guideline For Evaluative Reporting In Forensic Science; Strengthening the evaluation of forensic results across Europe, Approved Version 3.0
[2] Standards For The Formulation of Evaluative Forensic Science Expert Opinion, Science & Justice 49 (2009)161-164

 

Biology Caseworkers also have their own obligations, for example, as a result of directives from the United Kingdom Accreditation Service, the Forensic Regulator’s Code of Practice and Conduct and to the Criminal Justice System via the Criminal Procedure Rules and Criminal Practice Directions. The introduction of Streamlined Forensic Reporting into Biology Casework has taken into account these obligations and will hence allow for a continued high quality service from each FSP, accurately targeted at the specific needs of the case, but with an output that fits in to a modern, more streamlined Criminal Justice System.

“The Criminal Procedure Rules give courts explicit powers to actively manage the preparation of criminal cases waiting to be heard, in order to get rid of unfair and avoidable delays.” 3

SFR produces and delivers proportional forensic evidence in accordance with the needs of each case.

In order to streamline and make the process more efficient, all Forensic Practitioners are to issue their reports using the same set of four formally agreed templates:

  • MG22 (a)- SFR Initial Forensic Investigation Report
  • MG22 (b)- SFR Stage 1 Forensic Result Report
  • MG22 (c)- SFR Stage 2 Forensic Issues Statement
  • MG22 (d)- SFR Crime Scene Investigation / Forensic Examination Statement

The following pages provide guidance for Forensic Practitioners on how to complete the SFR forms and at what stage of the CJ process each form should be used.

It is recognised that not all Biology Casework will fit into the SFR process, for example multiple suspect cases or some complex murder cases. The Forensic Science Provider, in consultation with the authorising Police Force, will have discretion to determine the most appropriate output for each case, on a case-by-case basis, bearing in mind their obligation to assist the courts to actively manage the case in the most streamlined and cost-effective way.

Should the expert/ author of the SFR feel that the case may be open to misinterpretation if reported in an SFR format, for example, if the findings are particularly complex or if the interpretation or conclusion requires detailed explanations in order to be well understood, then a full statement should be authorised and provided.

[3] Ministry of Justice website http://www.justice.gov.uk/courts/procedure-rules/criminal

Notes for Completing the SFR Forms


SFR Initial Forensic Investigation Report / MG22 (a)

This form is a report rather than a statement, and as such, information input onto this form is not intended to be adduced as evidence at court, but will be available for disclosure purposes as required. This form will often be used where, prior to the introduction of SFRs, an e-mail, letter or short report would have been issued by the expert as a means of communicating the findings.

An Initial Forensic Investigation Report can be used when there is a request for an initial assessment of a scene or forensic exhibits that may help an enquiry, interview or strategy. This can include a request from an investigating officer to establish a course of events or present initial scientific findings, for example, prior to the identification of any suspect. It may also result in no further forensic work being undertaken. These findings and/ or opinions are based on the information available at the time. Further work and interpretation may be performed in context with additional findings or accounts and be produced in subsequent SFR reports.

  • Photographs are encouraged to be included in the MG22a, if it assists in conveying the findings or in putting the findings in context for the reader.
  • Spreadsheets containing summaries of initial Laboratory findings can be embedded into the MG22a, if that assists in conveying the findings in the shortest and clearest way possible, particularly if there are a large number of items submitted in relation to a complex, ongoing investigation.
  • Information can be transferred from an Initial Forensic Investigation Report onto the SFR evidence forms (MG22c or MG22d) if required at a later date.
  • It is essential that clear target dates are agreed to avoid delays, and so should be detailed on the form in the space allocated.
  • Requests made by a scientist / FSP for additional information or recommendations for further work in a case (as might be sometimes requested via e-mail) can be put forward to the mandating Police Force on this form.
  • In cases where no suspect has yet been identified, details of any examinations resulting in a load to the National DNA Database (including the load details) or recommending a one-off speculative search may be detailed on this form.
  • The results of any one-off Speculative Searches of the National DNA Database may be reported on an MG22a.

SFR Stage 1 Forensic Result Report / MG22 (b)


Link - SFR1 Casework Quick Guide (PDF)

The purpose of an MG22b is to inform the Defence of the evidence against the suspect upon which the Prosecution wish to rely, should the case come to trial. The first section of the report contains a summary of that information. The second section of the report should detail any further information in the case which may undermine the Prosecution case or may assist the Defence.
As the purpose of the MG22b is to allow presentation of information to the Defence;

  • for acceptance of the scientists conclusions, or
  • for the Defence to take issue with any particular detail therein,
    each MG22b should be written in reference to no more than one suspect.

This form is used to report key forensic information, expert opinion (in the form of either an investigative or evaluative conclusion) or a result from the initial analysis / comparison / data or database hits. The overall conclusion should be at the level that the expert deems most appropriate to the case (i.e. whether that be source or activity level), to avoid any misunderstanding or misinterpretation of the value of the laboratory findings by the reader.

 

Although advisable in all but automated National DNA Database intelligence match reports, the person who makes this report need not be the person who would provide an additional statement or SFR2 report (e.g. involving (further) expert opinion) on the same matter, if later required.

Note: As it is not a statement, the “maker” of the SFR1 should never be warned to attend court as a witness, unless they are also the author of a SFR2 or  full evaluative statement in the case.


SFR Stage 1/ Section 1- Forensic Result:

Section 1 of the SFR Stage 1 should clearly show the overall expert conclusion. The purpose of this section is to convey the expert conclusion in the shortest and clearest way possible4. If including photographic representations assists in this aim, they may be included for information purposes only.  If necessary, these photographs can be added as an appendix to the MG22b, and referenced within Section 1 of the form.

It is recommended that any activity level conclusion, which has taken into account any or all exhibits examined in the case, should be put in a separate paragraph within Section 1 to the source or sub-source level conclusion(s) (i.e. the DNA match information). This is to ensure clarity for the reader.

The content of the SFR 1 will vary with circumstances but it may contain:

a) Results obtained in one, or more, relevant examination(s);
b) A comparison of those relevant results; and/or
c) The result of the comparison or analysis;
d) Photographs illustrating the pertinent findings;
e) A succinct summary of the expert’s opinion and/or the conclusion or outcome of the expert evaluation of the findings based on the case information available at the time of writing.

The report will not contain significant amounts of technical or supporting information, or detailed explanations / rationale concerning how the conclusion was formed. General technical information is provided as Appendix 1 (below), and the Forensic Practitioner may reference any such relevant technical notes within Section 1 of the SFR Stage 1 Report, which the reader may then look-up if necessary. The worked examples in Appendix 2 (below) demonstrate how this can be done.

If different DNA profiling systems have been used in the case, this must be disclosed within Section 2 and a reference to the DNA Guidance notes made in the Technical/ Supporting Information section.

[4] Crim.PR 3.2(e)

 

SFR Stage 1 / Section 2 - Status of exhibits relating to the case:


The SFR Stage 1 incorporates a separate section informing prosecution and defence of the status of exhibits related to that evidence type which were included with the submission. It may be that certain exhibits have not been examined at that stage, or that tests have been carried out with a negative or neutral outcome. It is designed to give balanced view of related evidence type information. It may also include results considered in developing the forensic strategy or information used in forming the overall SFR conclusion.

Additional information regarding the examinations undertaken may be succinctly listed in this section (for example, if relevant, the nature of a reaction to a presumptive chemical test, i.e. strong or weak) and/ or brief details of any DNA mixtures, i.e. the likelihood ratio/strength of the DNA match should be reported in Section 1, but the presence of non-matching DNA in the mixture can be detailed in Section 2. If any findings limit or undermine the prosecution case, or assist the Defence, they should be listed in Section 2 (for example inclusion of a caveat to state that it is not possible to determine when any DNA detected has been deposited).

Exhibits created during the course of the examinations can be listed in Section 2.

Any discrepancies, for example, compromised or inappropriate packaging, discrepancies in the spelling of a suspect or complainant name etc, can be detailed in Section 2.


Note: SFR forms do not deal with disclosure (by way of unused material) responsibilities. Unused material relevant to the investigation must be revealed to the police through completion of the MG6 form, or equivalent.

 

SFR Stage 2 Forensic Issues / MG22 (c)


This form is a statement and is used to address the specific issues, and only those issues, raised by the Defence in response to the MG22(b). As such, the expert completing the MG22(c) form can be expected to be called to attend court to give evidence on the issues contested in the case.

 

SFR Crime Scene Investigation / Forensic Examination Statement / MG22 (d)

In contrast with the MG22(a), this form is a statement rather than a report, and is used to describe details of a crime scene examination for evidential or court purposes.

The purpose of the form is to standardise the delivery of Crime Scene Investigation/ Forensic Examination statements of evidence.

The incorporation of photographs into the body of this form is encouraged, to illustrate any pertinent findings or to provide context for the reader.

It is not envisaged that this form will be used by any FSP, and should, on the whole, only be used by CSIs and Police staff.

 

Appendix 1


National Body Fluid Guidance Notes (PDF)

 

Appendix 2


Worked Examples

 
Document last modified - January 2017