Forensic science is an important and valued pillar of the criminal justice system, however it is at a crossroads in its history and development.
The revelation, publicly delivered by the US National Academy of Science in 2009, that there is a deficiency in underpinning scientific robustness associated with many types of forensic evidence, particularly relating to the interpretation and evaluation of such evidence has caused increasing alarm and concern. In some instances this has even led to judicial refusal to admit evidence, including some aspects of DNA evidence, into the court room. This growing 'crisis' of confidence in the validity of what is presented as scientific evidence within our court rooms has developed almost exponentially in recent years and is highlighted as a factor in the increased popularity and work of Innocence Projects and public campaigns.
In an effort to try and address these issues in a completely different and innovative way, we applied to the Leverhulme Charity to create a ground breaking positively disruptive research centre to re think how we look at and evaluate the use of science in the criminal justice system. In December 2015 they were successful in securing £10Million of funding to establish the Leverhulme Research Centre for Forensic Science at the University of Dundee. The project was formally launched by Her Majesty the Queen in the company of His Royal Highness Prince Philip on the 6th July 2016. The Dundee project was the only one to be funded in Scotland and it is the largest grant ever given to forensic science in the UK, coinciding with the University of Dundee being named in two National league tables as number one in the UK for forensic science.
In partnership with judicial, legal, scientific, law enforcement and industrial colleagues, and with Scottish business modellers (business models inc) as our secret disruptive tool, we have identified a suite of evidence types that require attention and we will approach these in a systematic but innovative manner that we believe will also unlock hidden development potential ripe for innovative solutions developed in partnership with industry. Addressing the not insubstantial challenges facing the forensic science research community requires an unconventional and extremely fluid and vibrant research structure that will adapt readily to the requirements of each evidence type. We believe that this will facilitate a repositioning of forensic science research and its culture from a marginalized and weak partner to a strong transformational driver that will realign the core values of the ecosystem and contribute to a new era of enlightenment of research within the forensic science domain.
To disrupt an entire scientific community is no small challenge and will, in part, be achieved by providing a space that promotes creativity, stimulates innovative thinking and moves ideas and concepts to reality with greater efficiency and effectiveness. Most of all, what we do must be fun. We will be installing two specific spaces within our new centre; the first is the 'creative zone' - this will have one entire wall turned over to white board space to create a doodle wall. Here we will place all of our forensic evidence type research maps that show where we are with any number of our research projects at a glance. It gives all occupants and visitors to the Centre the opportunity to engage with the research progress and to contribute to it fully and freely. Another wall in this space will be the ‘Crazy wall’ where ideas will be shared. Every time there is a new idea posted, a ships bell will be rung which will stop everyone in the room so that they can look at and talk about the idea. The second specific space we will create is a Data Cave, a fully immersive, virtual reality data environment completely surrounding and immersing the viewer in their data. Users can wear stereo optics which permit them to walk around in, and interact with, their data. Multiple users can share the experience. Imagine your self exploring your data in this way when the ship's bell goes off and trying to decide will you stay and play, or will you go and see what's new - what a fantastic situation to be in!
The Leverhulme Research Centre for Forensic Science is a ten year project. It brings 12 new full time research posts to Dundee, will create a doctoral research centre for forensic science providing unprecedented access to International and industrial partners and will bring over 70 visiting fellows (from Grannies to Nobel Laureates) to Scotland providing all of the opportunities such diversity will deliver. The research centre will be open to everyone - we will welcome all comers to see how they can engage with us in developing a new and bright future for the use of science in the service of justice.