Skip navigation

Science and Justice Research Interest Group

The Science and Justice RIG 'sits' within the Law and Society Signature Interest Group (SIG). The RIG adopts a broad interpretation of ‘science’ including technology, as well as ‘justice’.

Primary Department: Faculty of Business & Law

Primary Subject Team: Law

Contact Name: Dr. Carole McCartney


The S&J  RIG aims to evaluate and promote the understanding of the role of science in securing a ‘just’ society. Topics of interest include: forensic science; genetics; biometrics; technology; data & databases; surveillance; miscarriages of justice; regulation of science; bioethics; interaction of science and law; and space law. 

The inter-disciplinary group will bring together academics and practitioners in forensic science, law and related fields to produce research outputs, organise research events and workshops, and secure external funding.

Events and Activities

Streamlined Forensic Reporting: Expert Panel and Discussion

Thursday 22 November 2018, 5.30pm - 7.30pm (Registration from 5pm)

City Campus East 1, Business & Law Building, Room 403

Expert Panel:

  • Robert Smith QC - New Park Court Chambers
  • Luan Lunt - Science Lead (Case Assessment & Interpretation), Senior Reporter and Team Leader at Eurofins
  • Karen Richmond - Postdoctoral Research Assistant with the Leverhulme Research Centre in Forensic Science
  • Dr. L Jane Bloor and David Schudel, Keith Borer Consultants


Seminar Series – 2018/1

Theme: ‘Forensic Science: Remaining Impartial in a Partial World’

This series of seminars will question the role of forensic science in society, asking how it retains its scientific objectivity and credibility, when utilised in partial environments. The working environment of forensic science is inherently problematic, with vested interests and external pressures that scientists must resist if to remain impartial. How to ensure that forensic science remains robust and objective, and how these pressures can be mitigated, will be a focal point of these introductory seminars. They will look closely at the role of forensic scientists, of forensic data, and the use of scientific evidence in the criminal justice system. At a summer conference, the role of forensic science in broader social contexts will be considered, looking at death investigations and the State, and forensic science in post-conflict situations, with guest speakers from forensic pathology and forensic anthropology.


Previous seminars

Thursday 15th February 2018 - 4pm - CCE1 223a

Presentation 1: The Forensic Science Paradox

Dr. Carole McCartney, Northumbria University.


The paradox of forensic science is observed when contemplating the binal role it plays in wrongful convictions. Forensic science is introduced into the criminal process to reduce uncertainty by providing ‘objective’ (verifiable) facts to steer decision-makers. And yet, forensic science comes under fire for obfuscation, creating new sites of dispute and increasing uncertainty, and seemingly indelibly linked with injustice, at its worst, in the form of wrongful convictions. Yet, while there may be wrongful convictions featuring scientific evidence, simultaneously, wrongful convictions have been identified by forensic scientists, who in many cases, have proven critical to exonerations. Drawing parallels with medicine, this paper asks whether forensic science is iatrogenic and how reformers can prevent iatrogenesis, while supporting and encouraging the ‘many hatted’ forensic scientist to fulfil their role in preventing and curing injustice, and acting as agents of change within the criminal justice system.

Presentation 2: The Regulation of Forensic Science in the UK

Emmanuel Amoako, PhD Candidate, Northumbria University.


In response to apparently irremediable problems with the quality of scientific evidence in the UK, in 2007, the government established the Office of the Forensic Regulator. The introduction of a Regulator was intended to establish quality standards for all forensic science providers in the UK, creating a level playing field in the forensic services market, and grant assurances that all providers were producing reliable and robust scientific evidence. A decade on, there remain questions over the effectiveness of this model of forensic regulation. While there has been significant progress with initial aims and objectives, and broad stakeholder engagement, the Regulator still lacks meaningful powers, and significant gaps in regulation remain. Accreditation is not only inconsistent, but may be superficial. The Regulator faces serious resource restrictions with debilitating limitations on their capacities, while wider austerity measures throughout the criminal justice system hamper efforts to raise standards in forensic science. This paper will detail the first 10 years of the Office of the Forensic Regulator, outlining success and ongoing challenges. It will demonstrate that the UK model of forensic regulation has proven only partially effective at minimising the risks associated with forensic science, while ensuring that the criminal justice system can continue to secure high quality forensic scientific evidence that is robust, reliable and sustainable.


Thursday 15th March 2018 – 4pm – CCE1 418

Presentation: The National DNA Database: Ensuring Effectiveness

Aaron Amankwaa, PhD Candidate, Northumbria University

There is a widely held belief that national DNA databases are useful in detecting and preventing crime. This belief in the utility of databases is partly supported by high-profile, but isolated criminal investigations where DNA databases proved instrumental in solving the crime. Utility however, does not mean effectiveness and effectiveness is not equal to efficiency. Although these individual cases demonstrate the utility of databases, overall effectiveness and efficiency are more difficult to prove. This paper details the current situation regarding the effectiveness of the UK National DNA Database, including the limitations of original assumptions and measures of effectiveness. Recommendations for ensuring and measuring effectiveness are discussed in the context of existing literature. The paper identifies three key factors in ensuring effectiveness: inclusion of DNA profiles from crime scenes and the active or previously active criminal population, and the integration of privacy and human rights law in DNA legislation. To maximise the utility of the NDNAD and ensure effectiveness, it is recommended that metrics are developed to measure the crime-solving capacity of the database, its incapacitation and deterrent effect, protection of civil liberties, proportionality between public and private interests, implementation cost and efficiency.


Wednesday 21st March 2018 – 5pm – 4th floor Hub, CCE1 402

Presentation: Maximising Forensic DNA Utility: Local, Regional and Global Challenges.

Dr Carole McCartney, Northumbria University

Since the emergence of forensic DNA profiling and the corollary creation of DNA databases, efforts to maximise the efficiency and utility of DNA technology have intensified. Developments on a local, regional and global scale may challenge ‘accepted’ use of DNA, yet such efforts are expedient given the imperative that expenditure on DNA should be cost-effective and the benefits demonstrable. To this end, regimes governing forensic DNA have often been adjusted to better target those from whom DNA will prove most ‘profitable’, and to expand the uses of retained DNA. Yet the European Court of Human Rights in 2008 clearly articulated the need for a ‘balance’ between police powers to retain the DNA of citizens, and privacy concerns, human rights and public interest.The Court left unsaid what this balance should be, leaving such calibrations to domestic legislators. The Court was likewise silent on whether there ought to be limitations on the uses of retained DNA.

In delivering a unanimous but terse ruling, the Court left States wide discretion, and while scientific and technological advances continue to attract the eye of ethicists and sociologists, (particularly around developments such as phenotyping and familial searching), the governance and legal regimes of DNA databases garner far less critical attention. In some instances, a ‘balance’ originally struck may have been destabilised by subsequent legal reforms, or changes in practice, and regimes are in need of re-calibration. Thus forensic DNA databases continue to raise questions of legitimacy and acceptability, particularly when accounting for ongoing efforts to maximise DNA efficiency and utility.


Monday 16th April 2018 – 4pm – CCE1 007

Presentation: DNA Experts in Court – Unbiased and Impartial? Dr. Rick Graham

Rick will discuss the findings of his PhD thesis, which examined experts’ perceptions of challenges they faced in the presentation and examination of DNA evidence, including their duty to offer objective and unbiased opinion. The study determined that, whilst experts may give ‘unbiased’ opinion, ‘impartiality’ was difficult to achieve in practice, because of the different roles played by prosecution and defence experts. Furthermore, a lack of clarity regarding responsibilities implied by the requirement of remaining ‘unbiased’ , meant that experts interpreted their duties differently in this regard. This is compounded by the fact that the terms ‘unbiased’ and ‘impartial’ are not exactly synonymous: the way in which these words are used and construed within legislation, official guidance and commentary imply subtly different responsibilities. Regarding these responsibilities, the study concluded that the intention underlying the ‘unbiased and impartial’ duty on the expert be examined, so that the experts’ duties may be better defined.


Upcoming Seminars

Friday 4th May – Prof Sarah Cooper and Dr. Paraic Scanlon: Exploring Juror Interpretation of Expert Firearms Testimony in the United States

To address claims that firearms (tool-mark) evidence is not admissible due to unreliability, post-2005 some US courts have prevented experts from testifying to absolute forensic matches (e.g., “there is an exact match”). In an attempt to resolve the uncertainty, judges have required experts to testify in allegedly less absolute terms, such as “more likely than not” or “to a reasonable degree of ballistics certainty.” (Cooper, 2013; 2014; 2015; 2016). How jurors interpret expert testimony is important in light of their role in determining fact. Studies show jurors place weight on expert testimony (McQuiston-Surrett & Saks, 2008) but can be confused by it (Lanigan, 2012). Little is known about how jurors interpret the phrases coined by the judiciary in firearms cases post-2005. Consequently, Scanlon and Cooper (2018, in press) examined mock juror certainty (1-100) in response to 12 expert statements taken from firearm tool-mark cases, ranging from high to low certainty. They found certainty was significantly influenced by the wording of expert testimony. Their second study aims to further investigate this finding by adding context, namely a cross-examination statement explaining that tool-mark identification evidence has limited scientific underpinning. This study uses an online questionnaire based on the original study. Participants are again US citizens eligible for Federal Jury Duty (n=520). Participants were asked to rate their certainty (0-100) of a forensic match based on 4 expert statements of certainty taken from tool-mark cases in 2 groups (n=260); either with or without a cross-examination statement. This presentation reports the outcomes and analyses the group differences found with regards to the various statements, placing them in the context of exisiting literature and Study 1, examining the impact of the cross-examination statement on juror certainty of expert testimony.


Thursday 31st May – 4pm CCE1 223a

‘Improving DNA data transfer in Australia to assist in criminal investigations.’ Jessica Ritchie, T.C. Beirne School of Law, The University of Queensland.

Comparing DNA data across domestic and international borders is not a straightforward process. Within Australia there are three current ways in which DNA data comparisons occur – domestic data within the states and territories, and foreign data within Australia, and Australian data within foreign countries. Formal and informal processes are utilised to facilitate this process. The Australian system of DNA data exchange has developed some strong positives. Australia will not share information with countries where the death penalty is involved. Further there has been a focus on the development of intelligence and investigative powers and assisting developing countries with their capabilities. However, there are processes that need further consideration, MoUs are not particularly transparent, many organisations need to cooperate, sometimes cultural considerations can impede the process, legislation can limit how intelligence can be used, and scientific advancements are moving too quickly. This research considers directions for the future to facilitate Australia’s capacity to combat cross-border crime.


Thursday 28th June 2018 – All day

Symposium: ‘Medicine, Science and Justice’ 

Postgraduate Research Students

Aaron Amankwaa (2016 – 2019)

Project Title: Forensic DNA Databasing: Retention regimes and efficacy

Research Context:

Three legislative regimes have governed the retention of DNA data on the United Kingdom National DNA Database (NDNAD). These are broadly described as restrictive (1995 – 2001), expansive (2001 – 2013) and semi-restrictive regimes (2013 – present). The purpose of this research is to assess the efficacy of the different regimes to develop DNA retention standards for the protection of public security and the individual’s right to privacy, and advance retention reforms to maximise the utility of forensic DNA databases. The methodology will involve a statistical analysis of NDNAD match rate data to determine the impact of the different retention regimes on the performance of the database. The study will also survey the views of staff from 118 stakeholder organizations/agencies directly involved in the collection and processing of DNA samples, and use of the NDNAD; oversight and operation of the NDNAD; and those with a special interest in the operation and use of the NDNAD. A self-administered semi-structured questionnaire will be used to assess the perception of stakeholders on the efficacy of the different retention regimes against specific effectiveness criteria identified from the literature. The original contributions of this research include advancement of the literature on the efficacy of retention regimes for the NDNAD, particularly on the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 regime; proposals for development of a standard retention regime for the NDNAD; provision of retention reforms to maximise the utility of forensic DNA databases; and resource for developing human right standards and public security safeguards for forensic biometric databases worldwide.



Emmanuel Amoako (2017 – 2020)

Project Title: The regulation of forensic science in the UK

Research Context:

The oversight responsibilities of the Forensic Science Regulator, since its creation in 2008, to ensure high-quality standard in the provision of forensic science in the UK, has been without a statutory backing. This research will examine the current regulatory regime of forensic science in the UK. It aims to assess the role of the Forensic Science Regulator in regulating forensic science providers in the UK and the need for a statutory power given to the Regulator to ensure compliance with the Codes of practice and conduct. The research will involve a survey design where questionnaires will be administered to stakeholders of forensic science in the UK e.g. forensic science service providers, police forces, the judicial system, academics and other relevant stakeholders to consolidate knowledge on the administration of the statutory mandate to the Regulator and her codes of conduct and practice.



Amankwaa, A. O., & McCartney, C. (2018). The UK National DNA Database: Implementation of the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012. Forensic Science International, 284, 117–128.

E Amoako and C McCartney, ‘The UK Forensic Science Regulator: A Model for Forensic Science Regulation?’ (2018) 34 (4) Georgia State University Law Review (forthcoming).

C McCartney and R Graham, ‘All We Need to Know?’ Questioning Transnational Scientific Evidence, in ‘Forensic Science Evidence & Expert Witness Testimony.’ Roberts & Stockdale (eds) (Edward Elgar, 2018).

C McCartney, ‘The Forensic Science Paradox’ in: King, Lennon & McCartney (eds) Counter-terrorism, Constitutionalism and Miscarriages of Justice (Hart Publishing, 2018).

Talks and Lectures


Rick Graham: DNA Experts in Court 

Emmanuel Amoako: Forensic Science Regulation in the UK

Carole McCartney: The Forensic Science Paradox


Northumbria Open Days

Open Days are a great way for you to get a feel of the University, the city of Newcastle upon Tyne and the course(s) you are interested in.

Research at Northumbria

Research at Northumbria

Research is the life blood of a University and at Northumbria University we pride ourselves on research that makes a difference; research that has application and affects people's lives.


Order your prospectus

If you would like to know more about our courses, or life in general as a student at Northumbria, then we can help you.

Latest News and Features

In the Spotlight

Find out how our academics' research is reaching audiences all around the world.

More news

Back to top