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Pushing the boundaries of forensic law at Northumbria

20th January 2017

The Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser Professor Sir Mark Walport has visited Northumbria to deliver a public lecture about the power of forensic science in law.

During his talk, entitled Forensic Science and Beyond, Sir Mark discussed the different and innovative ways analytical science is being used, from within the pharmaceutical industry to cyberspace. He also discussed his influential 2015 Annual Report around the future of forensic science, to which a number of experts from Northumbria contributed chapters.

The talk took place at Northumbria Law School, which carries out leading research into the role forensic science plays in the legal process through its internationally-recognised Northumbria Centre for Evidence and Criminal Justice Studies (NCECJS). The work of the Centre regularly contributes to policy-making, creating international research collaboration opportunities and offering a real-world learning experience for Northumbria’s law students.

Academics from the NCECJS provided evidence used by Sir Mark as part of his 2015 report, which focused on the power of analytical science and the many different ways it can be applied. This included the use of forensic science in court cases to help with identification; as well as less traditional uses which deliver wider benefits for society.

Much of this multi-focused approach was reflected in a chapter of the report by Tim Wilson, Professor of Criminal Justice Policy and a member of the NCECJS research group at Northumbria Law School. Professor Wilson’s chapter drew on research about cross-border offending by Northumbria academic Derek Johnson. It also included contributions by Associate Head of the Department of Applied Sciences Sophie Carr, as well as the Director of the NCECJS Dr Michael Stockdale, a leading expert on the law of evidence, and a number of other academic and professional colleagues in Belgium, Sweden and the USA.

Another regular visitor to Northumbria who contributed to the report was leading forensic scientist Dr Angela Gallop, who was involved in the Stephen Lawrence and Damilola Taylor investigations. Together with co-author Karen Squib-Williams, a barrister, former senior member of the CPS and now a post-graduate research student at the Law School, their chapter describes the long journey from the collection of traces at a crime scene to the use of these as evidence in a courtroom.

Another chapter of Sir Mark’s report was provided by Gary Pugh, the Director of Forensic Services at the Metropolitan Police and, for many years, a visiting professor at Northumbria. His chapter focused on the idea that forensic science is one of the most widely known and yet least understood areas of science.

As well as delivering the lecture, Sir Mark also took time to visit Northumbria’s Student Law Office where he met fourth year law students and Chris Simmonds, a solicitor tutor and member of the Law Society’s Access to Justice Committee. During the visit, Chris explained that the centre offered a wide range of advice, assistance and representation for clients in the local community, and provided students experience of professional practice after graduation. Since 2008 the Student Law Office has represented more than 1,000 clients and secured almost £1million on their behalf.

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