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Durham University

Policy, Professions and Communities Research Group


Publication details for Professor Robin Williams

McCartney, C., Williams, R. & Wilson, T. (2010). The Future of Forensic Bioinformation. London, The Nuffield Foundation.

Author(s) from Durham


A team of academics led by Dr Carole McCartney from Leeds University has identified four principles for the preparation of new legislation into the use foresnic bioinformation by the justice system.

The proposals were made following an investigation into how our justice system uses forensic bioinformation, including an assessment of changes in forensic science policy over recent years. The starting point for Dr McCartney's team was the The Nuffield Council on Bioethics' report on forensic bioinformation.

Researchers held a series of expert meetings to examine what is known about forensic processes within the justice system, and the operation and governance of forensic bioinformation databases, with the aim of producing concrete proposals informed by operational and policy viewpoints for use by policy makers, legislators, forensic scientists, police staff and prosecutors.

The four proposed principals for any new legislation governing the collection, retention and use of biological materials are:

■Proper consideration should be given, amongst other things, to an approach based a case by case scrutiny of retention decisions.
■The legislation and its implementation should be sufficiently robust and comprehensive to minimise the risk of later changes.
■There should be discretion for investigators to retain and share forensic bioinformation when there is a professional need, and such discretion should be proportionate and be subject, in line with the MOPI code, to regular and effective review and audit and open to challenge before an independent tribunal.
■The new arrangements should be informed and regulated by a new independent statutory governance body (described below as the audit and ethics body). This would oversee all forms of forensic bioinformation, based on effective audit arrangements, adequate data collection and publication, the commissioning of research and ultimately should be accountable directly to Parliament.