Medico-legal analysis forms, perhaps beyond all other branches, the most important work undertaken by the Analyst . . . its responsibility and importance lies in the fact that, as the term itself suggests, questions of health, or even of life or death are involved, and secondly, that the work performed will usually result in an action at law, either civil or criminal . . . For these reasons the work demands the greatest skill and experience that can be brought to bear upon it the best instrumental equipment that can be procured, the utmost patience, the most rigidly exact work, and, lastly, a sufficiency of time. . . .
Stirring and eminently appropriate sentiments which would do justice to any modern forensic laboratory administrator. The fact that these words were spoken by E.R. Dovey, Government Analyst of Hong Kong, in an address in 1917, is both a remarkable testament to that scientist and a realization that even 80 years ago, the profession he represented fully appreciated the vital role that forensic science can play in the justice system.
Incredible advances have been made in the sciences over the last few decades, and modern forensic laboratories are now staffed by teams of specialists, all experts in their own particular fields. The days are past when a forensic scientist appeared in the witness box one day as an expert in blood grouping, the next as a questioned document examiner and a third day as a suspicious fire investigator. Such 'generalists' do still present themselves from time to time, but informed courts now afford them a level of credence bordering on ridicule, and rightly so!
Increasing specialization and sophistication of scientific method has, however, widened the gulf of knowledge between the scientist, the lawyer and the jury. With a poor level of scientific literacy in the population at large, frequent criticism of the capacity of scientists to express themselves intelligibly to a lay audience, and a predominance of barristers who are unable or unwilling to help bridge the comprehension gap, that gulf is in danger of widening further.
The Select Committee on Science and Technology (House of Lords 5th Report 1992/3) has constructively, and to some, controversially, pointed the way forward with recommendations for pre-trial conferences between counsel and own experts as a norm rather than an occasion; pre-trial review between experts of both sides to define disagreements; encouragement for concluding statements by experts before leaving the witness box; increasing use of visual aids; and finally, for forensic science to feature more prominently in a lawyer's training.
To satisfy the last recommendation, however, there is a need for instructional and informational textbooks on the specialist areas of the forensic sciences written with the practising criminal lawyer in mind, which bridge the gap between the handbooks for the expert and a ' good read ' for the lay reader of scientific bent. It is to be hoped that this book fills that purpose in the ballistics field.
BRYCE N. DAILLY BSc, PhD, JP Government Chemist, Hong Kong, (retired)
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