As forensic expert reports become increasingly more technical and scientifically based, it becomes increasingly difficult for judges and other members from the judiciary system to critically evaluate these reports. Judges need to deal with scientific knowledge in order to interpret the reports and ask the right questions to the expert in court.
Together with the Council for the Judiciary (Raad voor de Rechtspraak), the Master’s Forensic Science initiated a pilot programme to investigate whether introducing forensic consultants as a new profession within the court could contribute to the improvement of forensic knowledge within the judiciary. As part of this programme three alumni of the master started working at the court as forensic consultants in 2012 . A year later, after a successful evaluation of the pilot, these positions became permanent. At the time of writing, in 2018, nine forensic consultants are working at different courts in the Netherlands, all of them are alumni of the Master’s programme.
The forensic consultant assists the judge in evaluating complex forensic reports on all kinds of forensic technical subjects and facilitates the contact between the judge and the forensic expert. This means for instance studying the findings of all forensic research done in a criminal case and analysing this within the judicial context of that particular case. A forensic consultant then advises the judge whether further research or explanation of the findings is needed. In case further research is needed or an expert is required to give a testimony at trail, the forensic consultant helps the judges prepare by formulating relevant (research) questions and helps them find relevant background information to better understand the subject matter at hand.
The forensic consultants are also involved in activities that reach beyond case work. For instance, they facilitate the organisation of forensic seminars within the courts in which forensic experts are invited to share their knowledge and the consultants have initiated a system of structural feedback to forensic institutes which help them to make improvements in their reports if needed.
Essentially, forensic consultants bridge the knowledge and communication gap between judges and forensic experts.