In the wake of the collapse of two rape trials caused by the failure of the Metropolitan Police Service to disclose information, the Faculty of Forensic & Legal Medicine (‘the FFLM’) is concerned that allegations of substandard methods of handling evidence in sexual assault cases may further undermine confidence in the criminal justice system.
A Daily Telegraph article carried claims by Dr Steven Hopkins that he was asked to take DNA evidence in a sexual assault case in a manner that risked contamination.
Working as a Police Doctor for a private sector provider, Dr Hopkins refused to take samples from both complainant and suspect as this risks cross contamination. He believes that other private sector forensic staff may have done so, as requested. This unacceptable approach to the collection of forensic samples could lead to miscarriages of justice. The FFLM cannot comment on the accuracy of those claims but is of the view that lack of enforceable minimal standards in sexual offence medicine and police custodial health will increase risks of these and other events.
Guidance from the Forensic Science Regulator on avoiding DNA contamination in sexual assault cases is clear: “The practitioner undertaking the forensic medical examination of a complainant should not provide any medical examination or any other service to the alleged suspect in the same case, for example, where the suspect is in custody.”
The FFLM’s standards and guidance are in accord with those of the Forensic Science Regulator and all practitioners must be trained to take appropriate precautions to minimise the risk of cross contamination, as without this, forensic evidence may be compromised, and in turn potentially lead to a miscarriage of justice. Moreover, the FFLM firmly maintains that in terms of the provision of clinical care to those in police custody, the standard should be equivalent to that in the community.
For this reason, the FFLM welcomed the recommendation by Dame Elish Angiolini in her recent report to the Home Office that police custody healthcare should be commissioned by the NHS in order to improve standards of care, ensure appropriate training and clinical governance. Additionally, whichever body or organisation is providing such services must ensure that all their practitioners do not fall below the minimum standards of qualification, training and competence advised by the FFLM.
The FFLM has two aims: raising standards in forensic & legal medicine and protecting vulnerable patients in the justice system. Forensic & legal medicine embraces professionals working in the main forensic and legal medicine disciplines: general forensic, sexual offences and medico-legal medicine and medically-qualified coroners. http://fflm.ac.uk
For further information:
Dr Bernadette Butler, Academic Dean via email: firstname.lastname@example.org