Work processes at NFI to be improved
Work processes at the Netherlands Forensic Institute (Nederlands Forensisch Instituut, NFI) are set to be improved on the basis of recommendations that the independent MIT committee led by prof. S.C. Bleker-van Eyk presented today. The MIT committee was formed in March 2018, in response to a report about possible irregularities in the implementation of procedures relating to examinations in the field of Micro-analysis Invasive Traumas (MIT). This unique examination method involves a number of different areas of expertise and is a method that the NFI has been using to identify invasive violence to the skeleton or tissue of victims, usually stab and impact wounds, since 2008.
'Forensic evidence is crucial for the success of investigations and the administration of justice in the Netherlands. It is important for forensic examinations to be beyond all doubt.'
This is what Minister Grapperhaus of Security and Justice wrote in a letter to the House of Representatives today. In this letter, he also explains the measures to be taken further to the report of the independent MIT committee.
The shadowing procedure
The independent committee initially turned its attention to the question of whether shadowing procedures have been followed in all of the MIT examinations carried out since the introduction of this method in 2008. The shadowing procedure – during which a peer subjects a report to a critical reading – is an important quality safeguard. Given their independent position, experts from the NFI are responsible for the content and quality of their reports at all times. As such, the fact that a report has not been shadowed does not mean that it is not usable. The MIT committee states that there is no reason to believe that systematic errors are being made in relation to observance of the shadowing procedure. However, the committee has observed a number of grey areas in the current procedures in relation to the MIT method and scope for differences in interpretation.
The independent committee encountered none or just partial shadowing evidence in six of the 571 MIT reports. Although shadowing was the case in 17 reports, the initials of the peer readers were absent. The six reports in which there was no evidence, or just partial evidence, of shadowing, will be shadowed by both an NFI expert and an external expert before the end of this year. In the 17 reports encountered without initials, this administrative omission will be rectified by establishing the cause and background of this omission. The Public Prosecution Service has been notified of these reports. According to the Public Prosecution Service, an initial assessment shows that none of the six reports with no shadowing, or just partial shadowing, have consequences for the criminal proceedings in question.
The NFI has already taken measures to improve the MIT process. All reports will be checked for the presence of the shadowing initials of peer readers from now on. Examinations will not be forwarded to the client without these initials. It should also be observed that a project group was created in August 2018; its remit is to establish a new and clearer shadowing procedure. This project group is also responsible for the harmonisation of NFI-wide and division-specific procedures.
The independent MIT committee also noticed the cultural problems observed previously at the NFI during the course of its investigation. Back in 2017, an investigation was carried out into the organisation and management culture at the NFI, since which time a cultural change programme has been initiated. The findings of the independent MIT committee give reason to continue to implement this cultural change programme without delay. Extra measures will now be taken to improve quality. These include regular quality assessments, the drafting of a scientific code of conduct and clarification of the objection and escalation procedures for shadowing.
The independent MIT committee also advises that steps be taken to position the NFI as a scientific institute or knowledge institute. In consultation with the newly appointed Science and Technology Director at the NFI, consideration will be given to the question of how to ensure that forensic professionals have sufficient opportunity to do their work properly. Furthermore, at the end of October, Minister Grapperhaus will submit the vision on the future of forensic examination to the House of Representatives – as he had promised to do previously. This will explain the positioning of the NFI in the field of forensics.
Minister Grapperhaus agrees with the conclusion of the independent committee that the initial response to the report about the shadowing procedure in January 2017 was inadequate. A reporting procedure is in place at the NFI, in accordance with the internal whistle-blowers’ regulations to be observed by central government, the police and the Ministry of Defence (klokkenluidersregeling Rijk, Politie en Defensie). A digital information brochure has been produced for members of staff, to ensure that these regulations are observed better. A permanent integrity committee consisting of independent experts is also due to be formed at the Ministry of Security and Justice. All staff – including those from the NFI – will be able to approach the members of this committee.
Angle measurement method
Receipt of the report on the shadowing procedure coincided with doubts, in 2017, about the correct use of a specific angle measurement method: the so-called Infinite Focus Microscope (IFM). The NFI responded by deciding to investigate the use of this angle measurement method in more depth itself. Although use of the IFM is not part of the MIT procedure, it could be used to support the same types of examination. Minister Grapperhaus agrees with the independent MIT committee's recommendation that the investigation that the NFI is carrying out into the cases in which the IFM has been used should be completed as soon as possible.