Organisations Continue to Invest in Quality

The Investigation and Prosecution Reinforcement Programme, which was set up to improve the quality of three organisations in particular: the police, the Public Prosecution Service and the Netherlands Forensic Institute (NFI), has been completed. Over the past few years important measures were taken to enhance the quality, professionalism and cooperation between the services involved. This involves, for instance, the organisation of extra review in current criminal investigations, improved forensic collaboration, more detailed forensic reporting and the possibility of having investigations that have not yet led to a court decision reviewed by experts from outside the police force or the public prosecutor’s office.

The Judiciary has also taken measures, such as improving the substantiation of judgments and offering the possibility of internal reflection at case level. This is evident from a letter that Minister of Justice Hirsch Ballin sent to the Lower House. The Minister endorses the ambition of the various organisations to continue to invest in quality.

The Reinforcement Programme was set up in 2005 in connection with the inquiries by the Posthumus Committee into the Schiedam park murder. The measures included in this programme have resulted from the ambition of the police, the Public Prosecution Service and the NFI to restore confidence through the enhancement of quality and professionalism, to establish a transparent and sound working method, and to fight crime decisively and effectively. The letter to the Lower House also included copies of the final reports of the services concerned.

During the past few years, the Public Prosecutor’s Office has organised tegenspraak [zie boven] in on-going criminal investigations. This means that in the case of extensive investigations, a separate Public Prosecutor will assess – from a certain distance – the options for the course of investigation from a certain distance. In this way, the situation where the investigation focuses to much and too soon on a certain suspect – also known as tunnel vision – will be prevented. Nowadays it is also possible to subject the investigation to a review, if it has reached an impasse, or is about to do so.

A new investigation team will then look for new leads. In addition, special quality standards have been established for Public Prosecutors who are to lead a Large-scale Investigation Team (TGO), and specialised officers have been appointed in all Public Prosecutor’s Offices, such as forensic and quality officers.

The police have invested substantially in professionalism by setting more stringent training requirements, requiring certification for executive positions and investigating officers (TGO team members, for instance) and introducing more highly qualified persons in the Investigation Service. Careful attention is being given to the composition of investigation teams, so that several disciplines are included. In this way a distinction is made according to the various types of crime scenes and the associated capacity and specialisms.

These measures have greatly improved the deployment of forensic expertise in criminal investigations. Traces are being protected more carefully and clearer arrangements are being made concerning the delivery of traces and the provision of feedback on the progress of trace examinations, as part of the collaboration with the NFI. Currently, there is also a national system for the registration of traces, so that all forensic traces can be traced, anytime and anywhere.

The NFI has taken measures to clarify the NFI reports. These reports are used as technical evidence in court or to support the furnishing of proof. Improved uniformity, transparency and completeness will make the reports easier to understand for judges and public prosecutors, as well as lawyers. In addition, the NFI has set up regional centres or points of contact for the police. These centres may help the police to assess which traces can be secured by which services, and which forensic examination should then be conducted and for what purpose. This provides clarity for all parties involved, and prevents unnecessary examinations. This approach was part of the action plan of the NFI, which resulted in a reduction of the case backlog from 18,000 to 2,000 cases. The delivery time was also reduced from 70 to 25 days. In addition, the NFI has now implemented the Track & Trace system. Track & Trace is a localisation and registration system; an invisible high-tech electronic network that facilitates the tracking of trace carriers within the NFI.

In a joint presentation letter, enclosed with the reports, the three chain partners state that in the years to come they will build on the results achieved, and that they will continue to invest in further quality improvements and professionalization of investigation and prosecution.

Although the Judiciary was not included in the Reinforcement Programme, parallel initiatives have been taken to improve the quality of the administration of criminal justice. This concerns, for instance, the promotion of professionalism and the implementation of reflection at case level. To that end a “Self-willed Section” was set up, where – under the guidance of coaches – the reflective capacities of judges and secretaries will be enhanced.

A working guide/working manual has also been developed, containing information about calling in experts, and methods to analyse and assess forensic scientific research. The Judiciary has also invested in improving the explanations in judgements (rulings) with regard to how certain submitted proof was assessed and how the judge(s) has/have arrived at a certain sentence.

In his letter, Minister Hirsch Ballin concludes that the organisations concerned have invested a great deal of time and energy in these measures in the past few years, while the daily activities have continued as usual. The Minister thanks the organisations for these efforts, and endorses their ambition to continue their endeavours in the chosen direction.