Improving Criminal Justice by Raising Quality Standards in Forensic Laboratories, and Professionalising Policing and Court Activities

Achieving International Forensic Laboratory Accreditation

Formal Quality standards are essential for confidence in the safety and reliability of a forensic laboratory’s results – for public confidence in criminal justice, and to promote data sharing and interoperability with other forensic laboratories around the world which are accredited to the same level.

The International Standards Organisation (ISO) classes forensic laboratories as ‘calibration and testing laboratories’ and the standards which apply to them are ISO 9001 – for general business activities, 17025 – for testing, and ISO 17020 – for judgements.

To achieve these standards, the laboratory itself and all operations performed within it need to be demonstrably fit for purpose. In practice this means that the laboratory must be able to demonstrate that, for example:

The laboratory is ‘clean’ and its activities appropriately managed – to avoid contamination of one item by another being picked up and mistaken for evidence

Unbroken chains of custody for evidential items in the laboratory are established and  maintained so there can be no question as to which specific item the test results relate to

Staff are properly trained so they are confident and reliable in what they are doing

 

There are Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) describing all systems and processes carried out within the laboratory and staff adhere to these

 

Scientific instruments used for the tests are properly calibrated, all methods validated, and all necessary controls, blanks and standards run alongside test samples

Records are kept of all aspects of the work so these can be consulted as necessary or checked by others if any of the work is subject to challenge

Essential aspects of  work are reviewed and agreed by a second scientist of similar standing – principle of peer review

A programme for continuous improvement is in place involving regular internal and external audit

There is a history of consistently achieving all of these requirements

The Axiom team has achieved international accreditation (ISO 17025) for both full scale and single purpose laboratories and offers a range of services to support other laboratories to do the same.

Conducting  initial reviews of laboratories for their fitness to apply for accreditation

Assisting them in establishing the necessary Quality infrastructure for accreditation, drafting an accreditation plan and roadmap for implementation

Providing advice and guidance on any underlying remedial action required

Overseeing the implementation process up to and including achieving accreditation

Training staff in Quality systems, processes and management

Conducting ongoing external audits thereafter to maintain and, if necessary, extend accreditation.

Track record example

Axiom’s Quality specialists have successfully established and maintained international accreditation for a number of forensic laboratories in the UK from full scale forensic facilities to specialist units. All of Axiom’s scientific courses contain the essentials of Quality management, and Axiom has also run specific courses and provided mentoring for designated Quality Managers for clients in Africa and the Middle East.