(Shutterstock)LAS VEGAS — An international panel of forensic experts gave a two-hour presentation on the changing landscape of forensic science, Wednesday morning, including a talk by US Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates on the aftermath of the flawed FBI hair analysis.

Moderator John Butler opened the proceedings by introducing the theme of the symposium “Transformation: Embracing Change.” The panelists spoke about the necessity of change in all the forensic disciplines, and what can be done to foster a culture of cooperation.

“Change is always challenging” Butler said.

Focusing on change, the experts spoke on the necessity for proper validations and cooperation between disciplines, but also, the practical challenges encountered trying to implement new techniques in an industry that’s often not used to change.

Gillian Tully, of the United Kingdom Home Office, has been heading an overhaul of the forensic system in the U.K. focusing on accreditation. She admitted that change has been a “painful process.” When she first took on the challenge in the early 90s, she recounted thinking: “How can we possibly do this? It’s not feasible,” she said.

But, with persistence and a change of culture, her organization has seen much improvement. The discipline of digital forensics has been a particular nuisance, she said. Now 95 per cent of agencies are validated for forensic hard drive imaging—up from about zero last year, according to the presentation.

“Using validated science and competent technicians, we can really reduce the possibility of error,” she said.   

After opening with some of the recent improvements the NIJ has instituted over the last few years, U.S. Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates spoke about the now infamous FBI microscopic hair analysis and the case reviews that are still ongoing.

She asked how to best ensure that expert witnesses do not “overstate the strength but not understate the value of evidence” at the bench.

“There are no easy answers,” Yates said.

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