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 Table of Contents  
REVIEW ARTICLE
Year : 2019  |  Volume : 5  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 118-122

New developments in quality control of forensic science in China


1 Institute of Evidence Law and Forensic Science, Key Laboratory of Evidence Law and Forensic Science, Ministry of Education; Research Centre of Forensic Science Standards, China University of Political Science and Law; Shanghai Key Laboratory of on-site Material Evidence, Shanghai, China
2 Institute of Evidence Law and Forensic Science, Key Laboratory of Evidence Law and Forensic Science, Ministry of Education; Research Centre of Forensic Science Standards, China University of Political Science and Law, Beijing, China

Date of Web Publication26-Jun-2019

Correspondence Address:
Xu Wang
Key Laboratory of Evidence Law and Forensic Science, Ministry of Education, China University of Political Science and Law, Beijing 100088
China
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None


DOI: 10.4103/jfsm.jfsm_48_18

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  Abstract 


Forensic science has advanced rapidly in China in recent years, with the number of forensic cases increasing in leaps and bounds. Forensic evidence has become indispensable in judicial trials. With the introduction of anti-trial strategy in the reforms of the trial-centered litigation system, quality of forensic evidence has become a focus of cross-examinations. Since 2015, product quality in numerous areas has been improved by standardization, and thus, China has focused on developing a national standardization strategy. Thus, standardization is also increasing in the field of forensic science. This study examines the growth in both the number and the type of forensic science cases in China over the past 10 years and also the deep qualitative cross-examination brought by the rise of the expert assessor policy toward forensic conclusions in trial. We also examine the progress of forensic science standardization in the context of the quality triangle of forensic science, as well as the structure of standardization in forensic science, basic research on forensic science, and measures designed to strengthen education, training, and communication with the judicial profession. These issues are of vital importance in relation to quality control in forensic science.

Keywords: Forensic science, quality control, standardization


How to cite this article:
Wang X, Yuan H. New developments in quality control of forensic science in China. J Forensic Sci Med 2019;5:118-22

How to cite this URL:
Wang X, Yuan H. New developments in quality control of forensic science in China. J Forensic Sci Med [serial online] 2019 [cited 2019 Nov 17];5:118-22. Available from: http://www.jfsmonline.com/text.asp?2019/5/2/118/261531




  Introduction Top


In today's environment of scientific fact-finding, forensic science bears the responsibility of ascertaining authenticity and restoring the truth. Thus, the quality of forensic science is both a core competitive advantage and a way of maximizing social credibility. In this study, we focus on the present situation in the field of forensic science and recent developments in relation to quality control.


  The Development of Forensic Science in China from 2005 to 2016: Statistics on Social Forensic Examination Institutions Top


In 2005, following the implementation of the Decision of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress on the Administration of Forensic Examination (adopted at the 14th Session of the Standing Committee of the Tenth National People's Congress on February 28, 2005, and hereinafter referred to as the 2.28 Decision), forensic science examinations were comprehensively separated from the judicial system and opened up to the public. Thus, the numbers of forensic examination institutions and personnel increased substantially, which ushered in a peak period in the development in forensic science.

Growth in the number of forensic examinations and forensic science institutions

According to statistical data, 1 year after the implementation of 2.28 Decision, in 2006, there were 1772 public forensic institutions divided into three major categories: forensic medicine, physical evidence, and audio and visual materials. By the end of 2017, there were 4338 authorized forensic institution in China [Figure 1].[1],[2],[3],[4],[5],[6],[7],[8],[9],[10]
Figure 1: Total numbers of forensic examinations and forensic medical examinations in China, 2006–2016

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The total number of forensic examinations in all categories was 2.126 million in 2016 [Figure 1], of which the majority were clinical cases (1.02 million).

Such amazing growth is unprecedented in the history of forensic science in China.

Classification of forensic examinations

There are currently four major categories of forensic science in China: forensic medicine, physical evidence, audio and visual materials, and environmental damage. Other disciplines that provide evidence for judicial trials are classified as minor categories.

The four major categories are divided into 13 subcategories: clinical forensic medicine, forensic pathology, forensic biology, forensic toxicology, forensic psychiatry, document examination, trace evidence, micro-trace evidence, audio-visual materials, computer forensics, electronic material examination, mental disorder medicine, and environmental damage.

Minor categories include the subcategories of intellectual property rights, forensic accounting, construction work, product quality, price, cultural relics, and agriculture.

Thus, there are 20 subcategories of forensic science in China. The percentage of cases in each subcategory is shown in [Figure 2].
Figure 2: The percentage of cases in each subcategory of forensic science in China

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  New Developments in Quality Control in Forensic Science in China Top


Regarding quality control in forensic science, the idea of a “quality triangle” has gradually emerged.[11] The quality triangle involves standardization of the forensic examination process, professional qualifications of laboratory personnel, and accreditation assessment of the laboratory, of which standardization of the forensic examination process is an institutional element that is of fundamental position. Its result can further enhance the reliability of all kinds of forensic examinations, and help to promote the overall development of the accreditation of forensic science institutions and the qualifications of the personnel who perform the examinations.

Quality control in forensic science in China mainly relies on two factors: (1) Accreditation assessment of the laboratory (based on the latest information from China National Accreditation Service for Conformity Assessment (CNAS), 443 forensic institutions were accredited as at the end of 2016), and (2) the standardization of forensic science.

The standardization construction of forensic science

The standardization of forensic science is urgently needed if the quality of forensic science is to be assured. It is also a discussion topic in judicial circles worldwide. In February 2009, the US National Research Council published a report titled “Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward.”[12] The report noted that “there is wide variability across forensic science disciplines with regard to techniques, methodologies, reliability, types and numbers of potential errors, research, general acceptability, and published material…Many of the processes used in the forensic science disciplines are largely empirical applications of science – that is, they are not based on a body of knowledge that recognizes the underlying limitations of the scientific principles and methodologies used for problem-solving and discovery…with the recognition that some of these activities might not have a well-developed research base, are not informed by scientific knowledge, or are not developed within the culture of science.” It further suggested that up until then, only DNA tests were able to meet the basic requirements of science. The report has caused great disturbance in the U.S. publicity, and the entire forensic science field was criticized, with one person stating that the report had returned the field of forensic science into a dark age.[13]

The field of forensic science is multidisciplinary, and while each discipline varies, they all require a certain “process” in practice. Thus, people in various disciplines are coming to understand the value of forensic science in investigating all kinds of situations and examining the evidence that is uncovered. Consequently, the goal of standardization has been extended from “mainly monitoring the process and product quality” to “becoming an industry-based technology tool.”

China has followed the development and rising status of forensic science in the U.S. with interest and is now drawing on the U.S. experience in forging its own technology development path. In the “National Guide on Medium- and Long-Term Program for Science and Technology Development 2006–2020,” the idea of “forming technical standards as an important goal of national science technology project” was clearly stated.

The standardization of forensic science in China has been led by the development of science and technology standards. This supports the scientificity and accuracy of forensic conclusions. One study examined the national and industry standards of ten subtechnical committees (SC1–SC10) under the Criminal Technology Standardization Commission (SAC/TC179) and found that there were 770 standards covering areas, including forensic toxicology, forensic chemistry, forensic medicine, fingerprinting, trace, photography, electronic evidence, document examination, criminal information, criminal technology products, crime scene investigation, intelligent speech technology, and psychological test.[14] The percentage of standards in each of these fields is shown in [Figure 3]. In general, the standard level is low and is mainly industry recommendation standards but not national standards.
Figure 3: Percentage of standards by area

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China expert assessor policy challenge forensic conclusions

While forensic science is developing rapidly in China, the number of cross-examinations in court based on forensic evidence is also rising.

As a result of the development of expert assessor policy in both Chinese and Western legal systems, the establishment of China's expert assessor policy has integrated the witness principle in the Anglo-American legal system and the forensic expert principle in the continental law system. Its influence on the reform of the trial-centered litigation system is based on two features. First, the cross-examination of forensic experts during trials is restricted by a series of rules that apply to court hearings. This protects the rights and interests of all parties and helps the judge to make an appropriate ruling based on forensic evidence. Second, expert assessor taking part in the trial is promoting the substantiation of the trial cross-examination. In the past, cross-examination of forensic conclusions was simply “conducted around the basic procedures and surface format, it does not reach the goal of verifying fact through questioning at all.” Since their introduction, expert assessors have undertaken research on the forensic conclusions, explored the formation theory of those conclusions, and engendered the essential effect. Civil cases, in particular, often involve higher levels of complexity, professionalism, and technology. The space and convenience for the party to proof and cross-examine is larger, and the effect of expert assessor is more prominent.

According to Michele Taruffo,[15] science can be divided into two categories: “explanatory science,” such as physics, chemistry, engineering, and genetics, and “understanding science,” such as psychology, sociology, history, and anthropology. The latter category, in particular, presents a variety of problems in terms of reliability in the field of forensic science and is more likely to involve expert assessors being asked to appear during a trial. For example, according to the researches regarding expert assessors in civil cases, expert assessors appeared most frequently in cases that involve medical disputes, which accounted for 27% of all 14 categories [Figure 4].
Figure 4: Distribution of cause of action in 146 civil cases that expert assessors participated in

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Meanwhile, we have to face the fact that in China, the chance of an expert assessor's opinion being admitted as evidence in a trial is very low [Figure 5].[16] Expert assessors' cross-examinations of forensic evidence have often been hampered by a lack of scientific standards. Hence, developing scientific standards for the evaluation of forensic evidence is necessary to improve judges' ability to review and make decisions in relation to forensic evidence.
Figure 5: The admissibility status of expert assessor opinion on 94 cross-examination cases

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Using scientific standard to enhance the reliability of scientific evidence in the contemporary judicial process will become a trend.[2] Thus, the development of standardization is not limited to the field of forensic science.


  Enlightenment Top


Enlightenment regarding standardization

The primary feature of modern standardization is that it has a high degree of systematicness. The basic reason for establishing a standard system in forensic science is to set up a core “nondiscipline standard” in the “process” of forensic science. Some experts have noted that this standard system is like the human spine; it has to be “sufficiently stable, while also meeting the body's needs in terms of flexibility.” Therefore, starting with the “process” of the application of forensic science, a system of technical standards needs to be established that covers crime scene investigation, examination, interpretation, and reporting of results. This is how the process of standardization in forensic science is likely to proceed.

In addition, in today's information age, the standardization of forensic science needs to “grasp and identify the standardized requirements of new technology fields correctly and seize the opportune moment to respond.”

Enlightenment from other countries' experiences

It is the common goal of forensic science worldwide to improve the accuracy and reliability of forensic technology and to better serve the judicial system. Although conditions in the U.S. and China are different, referring to the development of American forensic science (Strengthening Forensic Science in The United States: A Path Forward): to launch basic researches extensively on forensic science, to carry our quality control effectively, to provide more education and training programs, etc. These measures are enabling the progress of forensic science in China.

Forensic science has been developing for a long time but has failed to develop beyond basic theory to a mature discipline involving the application of scientific methods and advanced technologies. Therefore, to carry out basic researches extensively is very important. It is the fundamental factor to ensure the accuracy and reliability of forensic science and technology. Some aspects of forensic science have originated from branches of other disciplines. Hence, connecting with relevant nonforensic disciplines to jointly study, the application of various technologies to forensic science might be a way to carry out basic research into forensic science in the future.

As for quality control in forensic science, we need to continue the work that has been done on the quality triangle of forensic science, setting up a series of standard systems including basic standards (such as the use of unified terms), management standards (such as laboratory safety criteria), and technical standards (such as criteria for evaluating various human disabilities) and to implement compulsory professional accreditation and proficiency testing activities. These systems will be helpful in enabling experts to conduct repeat and empirical verification and to distinguish the deviation whether caused by methodology or human operation. They will also enable regular systematic feedback, which in turn will lead to self-revision and continuous improvement.

In addition, we should carry out more training and communication with the judicial profession circle. This kind of communication is bidirectional. It can enable people from the judicial profession to understand various forensic science methods, technologies, and means of evaluation, while also helping forensic science professionals to understand the principles of judging evidence, thus decreasing the obstacles to the use of scientific evidence in trials and enabling them to provide a better service for judicial trials.


  Conclusion Top


  1. Due to the introduction of anti-trial strategy and the rise of China expert assessor policy in the trial-centered litigation system reform, quality control of forensic evidence has become focus in cross-examination
  2. In recent years, quality control in forensic science in China has been guided by a desire for standardization, which takes “process” as its core. Thus, it is necessary to develop an extensive range of forensic science standards to enhance the scientificity and accuracy of forensic evidence
  3. China has drawn on the U.S. experience in terms of the development of forensic science, focusing on extensive basic research on forensic science, increased training and communication with the judicial profession, and developing the quality triangle of forensic science. This approach has enabled great progress to be made in the field of forensic science and in its application to judicial trials.


Financial support and sponsorship

This study was funded by the Humanities and Social Sciences Planning Project of Ministry of Education (18YJA820018) and Open Research Project of Shanghai Key Laboratory of on-site Material Evidence (2017XCWZK19).

Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.



 
  References Top

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Taruffo, Michele. Applying scientific standards to social science and forensic evidence[J]. Evidence Science, 2011;4:98-104.  Back to cited text no. 15
    
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    Figures

  [Figure 1], [Figure 2], [Figure 3], [Figure 4], [Figure 5]



 

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