European Forensic Science Area

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The proposal for a European Forensic Science Area was presented at the meeting of the Law Enforcement Working Party on 15 of July 2011 in Brussels by Pawel Rybicki, Chairman of the European Network of Forensic Science Institutes (ENFSI).

According to ENSFI website:

"the presentation [...] was received with great enthusiasm. It provoked a lively discussion which resulted in the strong support for the initiative expressed by a great majority of LEWP members. Slovakia was the first country to express its support. Then, the initiative was also supported by the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, Sweden, Finland, Estonia and Cyprus. In fact, the support of the last country, is the most important as long as the country will have its EU presidency at the end of 2012 , when the action plan related to Polish Forensic Initiative is going to be implemented. As far as European Agencies (Europol, Cepol, Eurojust) are concerned, their Directors sent their official letters of support for the Polish initiative. Moreover, during the meeting Europol expressed its willingness to participate more actively in the implementation of the initiative. Currently, the initiative waits for the comments and opinions submitted by the Member States. The next meeting related to the initiative is planned to take place on 15 of September 2011. It will be also attended by the ENFSI Chairman."

The draft conclusion (Doc. 12391/11) at the Council Register is not public yet. But they have published it (or a recent draft) on the ENFSI website

Key sentences of the document are:

"[Prüm Decisions] require forensic standards that are recognised in all jurisdictions, in order to guarantee that database-assisted identification of a suspect on the basis of biometric identifiers obtained in one jurisdiction cannot be (legally) challenged in another."

"Nowadays, there are more and more criminal proceedings with an international character, i.e. that involve more than one Member State. The introduction of a common approach and standards would not only reduce the costs of managing the law enforcement system and conducting court proceedings, but would also significantly shorten the time needed
to administer justice, whilst helping to avoid duplication of efforts and challenges to the legal proceedings in the Member States."

The draft conclusions:

- reaffirms "the crucial role that forensic science plays in realising the goal of providing science based, unbiased and objective information",

- emphasies "the need to introduce and implement common standards for forensic service providers relating to such sensitive personal data as DNA profiles, dactyloscopic and other biometric data, and to equip the Union to meet the new challenges that it is facing in the field of high tech and cyber crime"

- invites EC and MS in general to promote (the standardisation of) forensic science in general and ENFSI in particular.

The "vision for European Forensic Science 2020" includes the commitment to make progress in "identification, updating and use of forensic databases", "use of advances in forensic sciences" and "research and development projects".

While efforts to prevent false evidence and convictions are laudable, nonetheless think that the proposal is worth noting for several reasons:

1) the technocratic idea of "science-based, unbiased and objective information" which in effect leads to the "blackboxing" of evidence-making that cannot be challenged by others than the involved experts themselves, namely ENFSI members who also include private and privatised entities such as the UK Forensic Science Service.

2) the mounting pressure for lean and rapid techno-policing that is likely to accelerate research and development in the field of biometric identification (and probably computer forensics). European Security Research is already funding a project aiming to process DNA traces and make them database-compatible within two hours; German security research is funding a project for quick large-scale scanning of crime scenes for fingerprints.

3) and finally, it will be interesting to see which lowest common denominators they will agree on as standards for "objective" forensics in the near future.

A 2008 background paper the document is referring to that is of interest.

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