Forensic science services have becoming crucial and seek their position into the Malaysia criminal justice system. Forensic laboratory through scientific analysis of physical evidence could provide precious information that supports the investigation of crime. It must be carried out with the highest standards of scientific objectivity, integrity and quality. It is a single chance to let the evidence speaks for itself.
It is undeniable that the criminal justice system increasingly believes in forensic science services as new tools in crime investigation. Ministry of Health Malaysia however, is having a tough situation where our forensic delivery system is limited with resources but the demand for scientific evidence continues to grow. Despite having such scenario, the efficiency and effectiveness of the delivery have to be restored altogether with accuracy and quality of analytical work.
Trends of Forensic Services Currently
Law enforcement agency such as Royal Malaysian Police (PDRM) relies on various forensic science disciplines to solve crime. Forensic discipline such as fingerprint analysis, firearms examination, DNA analysis, document examination, forensic pathology and toxicology are among the aids need.
That is the main reason for forensic services to increase the efficiency, productivity and reliability in providing their expertise. Furthermore, operational and analytical are among the factors to introduce new technologies into forensic laboratories and services.
Operational concerns focus on delivering the services despite the overwhelming work load to be handled by limited staff and instruments. Analytical concerns focus on technology evolves in analytical fields where sensitivity is the main issue and non-destructive method is preferable.
Techniques of advanced sampling, laboratory robotics, high-tech instrumentations has been developed and applied to suit the current requirement. Development of new analytical techniques in forensic field worldwide can easily be obtained on the ground due to globalisation and borderless world.
Forensic scientists and forensic practitioners should aware of the well-established technologies in forensic applications that have been developed. Although there are no formal transfer of knowledge and methods have been applied, still this should not be an issue. The knowledge exists might be fragmented and dispersed. However, it can be found in journals and articles that can be accessed by internet.
Now, forensic science laboratory is no longer similar to the old fashion laboratory where beaker and glass pipette are the main equipments. Modern forensic laboratories are full of scientists and technologies with tablet pc, i-pad, wifi and modem, and laboratory information management system (LIMS).
The environment in laboratory is a scientific oriented. The managers have to identify the future trends in organisational structure to face the future challenges and emerging technologies. They have to project the needs in forensic facilities and activities.
Scientist and technologists who are involved in investigation activities need to equip themselves with abundant of new information and knowledge. They have to be ready to explore the laboratory investigation methods altogether with the advancement in analytical technology. The application of fully automated and computerised instrumentations help a lot but require proper training. It will also affect the routine practices and analysis due to engagement of new procedures and instruments.
The arising expectations of the public also contribute to the changes of the atmosphere. As they can surf and read thousands of articles on forensic science protocols and investigation techniques, they at least have the basic understanding on what forensic investigation is all about.
Therefore, it becomes one of the influencing factors for laboratory in providing reliable results that can stand alone before the court of law. Laboratory managers need to upgrade the security protocols and casework systems to ensure the chain of custody of the analysis and the integrity of the samples. Scientists need to upgrade their knowledge and analytical skills as more specialties are expected such as expertise in DNA analysis, forensic toxicology, facial reconstructions and forensic pathology.
Judges demand for stronger evidence to be presented before them. Prosecutors and lawyers demand for reliable results analyses and post-mortem findings with the help of modern technology. Police officers demand for proper handling of evidence during analysis and the power of modern instruments which will assist them to make decisions and to lead the investigation towards a correct direction. Public demand for the miracle of forensics to work like what they imagine from the forensic investigation-based dramas.
The increasing demands change the culture of forensic science analysis. In every case, they expect the presence of DNA analysis results.
These are the challenges that need to be faced by forensic science community:
- Source of laboratory funding
More allocation of budget should be given to equip the laboratory with latest and powerful analytical instruments. However, it do not stop there. Relevant authority needs to allocate a sum of money for routine maintenance, calibration and quality assurance programs. Staffing and workload measurement are also as important to assess the cost efficiency.
- Management of increased workload and test volume
Laboratory managers need to figure out the minimum and maximum workload and test volume that can be handled by laboratory staff. Laboratory has to meet the quality standards and legal requirements. Scientists need to report the finding conclusions of forensic examination with standard to optimize the presentation of quantitative and qualitative results to the clients.
- Operational changes in evidence handling
These changes will have a significant effect on how a forensic laboratory is designed to accommodate the continuing evolution of information technology, such as LIMS. LIMS is directly related to the development of instrumentation, automation, databases, evidence handling and record keeping.
Recruitment and training of staff
Training and development is an essential and integral aspect in every laboratory services. It is applicable to all laboratory members (the new and existing staff). The training must cover new test methods and new instruments installed to ensure the professional development. Training must also be taken into account when planning changes in the aspects of workload and test volume. The objective of training is to maintain the competency among those qualified and competent forensic scientists and technologists.
- Innovations and evolution of new technology
Forensic tools that once seemed to belong in the realm of science-fiction are becoming more real every day. There are new methods in detecting odours and vapours, analysing toxicological profiles and chemical impurities, and also in determining the origin of illegal modern drugs. More non-destructive analytical techniques are being introduced. Scientists can now study a person’s hair to determine their personal activities and drug addictions. Laser techniques can be used to analyse the composition of liquids and gases. Fibre optic by dip probe could analyse adsorption and absorbance in few seconds.
Analytical methods and instruments are continuously evolving. Modern forensic laboratories are expected to use more analytical instrumentation than wet chemistry procedures. Automated instruments can easily be found in drug chemistry, toxicology, and DNA sections.
The increasing dependence on the use of automation, robotics, and instrumentation will likely to continue. Still, competent trained scientists and technologists will be needed to run the machines.
Emerging technology is directly related to the development of instrumentation, demographic data and databases, post-mortem examination, evidence handling, and record archiving. As technology evolves, forensic laboratory personnel need to be prepared for re-organization and changes.
They have to:
- Learn to adapt quickly.
- Equip with knowledge and skills.
- Monitor the advancement in analytical techniques worldwide.
- Develop and validate new analytical methods to suit evolving requirements.
- Accommodate spaces for new instruments.
- Allocate resources for laboratory management, operation and budget.
- Mount, M. and Hackman, S. (2012). “Forensic Laboratory 2030: Scientific Environment.” (Online posting). Accessed: 11 February 2015. Forensic Magazine: http://www.forensicmag.com/articles/2012/12/forensic-laboratory-2030-scientific-environment.
- Tjin-a-Tsoi, T.B.P.M. (2013). “Trends, Challenges and Strategy in the Forensic Science Sector.” The Netherlands Forensic Institute.
- White House. (2014). “Strengthening Forensic Science: A Progress Report.” (Online posting). Accessed: 11 February 2015.
|Last Reviewed||:||19 May 2015|
|Writer||:||Khairul Adli bin Nikman|
|Accreditor||:||Khoo Lay See|