Forensic scientists raising money for rape victims – appropriate?

Call me Bah-Humbug or whatever you like, but I was greatly concerned to read that forensic scientists at one of the Forensic Science Service labs in England have recorded Christmas songs and released a CD to raise money for rape victims (see Scientists’ charity CD experiment).

I know that such a cause is extremely worthy and people who are the victims of sexual assault of any kind need and deserve all the support they can get (without being considered to have a mental illness…) – to that end, as a private individual I have given money to similar charities, and others.  However, the duty of all forensic scientists is to the Court and not to those instructing them. The spokesperson for the forensic scientists said that “they regularly worked on sex offences and wanted to do something to help the victims”. To me, that hits right at the heart of the issue of impartiality. I can understand individuals wanting to help the victims of rape but professionally I feel this is inappropriate from forensic scientists.  As forensic scientists, we should be considering the science and keeping one step removed from the emotional aspects of the job.  As soon as a forensic scientist allows sympathy to invade their work then the scientist’s ability to remain impartial is pressed.

In some cases it is extremely difficult to remain impartial but part of doing that is keeping out the emotion and compartmentalising professional work and personal feelings.  We, as forensic scientists, have coping mechanisms for this aspect of the job, which can involve discussing issues with colleagues right through to psychological counselling and assistance.  It’s just part of the job.

Imagine as well the cross-examination of a Crown Expert (because that’s who these scientists are) by Defence Counsel about the sympathy the scientist feels for the victim when what the scientist was supposed to be doing was examining a pair of jeans and reporting the results impartially and without bias.  As forensic scientists we do not have an opinion on the Ultimate Issue – guilt or innocence – that is the role of the Court.  Expressing sympathy for any party involved in a case displays an affinity to one side or the other – in direct contravention of the Codes for Expert Witnesses, of which there are many in England.

I just hope these scientists don’t fall foul of the courts for their charitable actions.  I guess they shouldn’t be criticised for wanting to help people but I just wonder whether this charity CD is the right vehicle for what they want to achieve and for their continued career in forensic science.  Or perhaps they’re in the 800 who will be made redundant in the coming months…?

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