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Senior Managers of Australian and New Zealand Forensic Laboratories (SMANZFL)

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History of SMANZFL and its contribution to the evolution of forensic science in Australia and New Zealand

The early years

The Senior Managers of Australia New Zealand Forensic Laboratories (SMANZFL) was established at a meeting of forensic science laboratory directors held at the Division of Analytical Laboratories in Sydney on 21 August 1986. The aim of the group, at that time representing 10 laboratories, was to establish a vehicle to facilitate regular communication among the leaders of all of the major forensic science service providers within government, including police1

Dedicated to the pursuit of excellence in forensic science, SMANZFL’s goals in 1986 were to1:

  1. Promote and foster the development of forensic laboratory management principles and techniques
  2. Acquire, preserve and disseminate information related to the utilization of forensic laboratories
  3. Maintain and improve communications among forensic science directors
  4. Promote, encourage and maintain the highest standards of practice in the field of forensic laboratory services
  5. Promote and increase the effective utilization of forensic laboratory services
  6. Strive for the suitable and proper accomplishment of any of the declared purposes

In 1989 an Executive Committee was established to promote the objectives of SMANZFL, including coordinating the work of the Specialist Advisory Groups (SAGs) and carrying out SMANZFL’s agreed policies and decisions.

In these early years SMANZFL membership was based on laboratory representation rather than a jurisdictional one. This meant that some states had multiple representatives while others had only a single representative.  Following an extensive review in 2001, a new structure for SMANZFL was implemented.  The new structure included two jurisdictional representatives who would have voting rights at meetings.  Where possible the two representatives would cover the laboratory based and the field sciences within their jurisdiction1.  This proved highly successful as it enabled a national discussion and exchange of ideas between two, sometimes, culturally different groups. Ultimately SMANZFL was made up of 19 forensic service providers, representing all the primary jurisdictional government service providers.

The Executive structure was refined in the 2001 review and resulted in a committee of seven members, five elected by the voting members of SMANZFL, plus the Director of NIFS and the immediate past Chair. 

SMANZFL Successes

NIFS was established in 1991 and a strong strategic and collaborative relationship quickly developed between SMANZFL and NIFS, with NIFS becoming an important enabler for many SMANZFL initiatives1.  The Australian and New Zealand Forensic Science Society (ANZFSS) has also been an important collaborator at the national level, responsible, amongst other things for the biennial forensic science symposium.

SMANZFL met annually for a formal meeting with out of session teleconferences as required.  Jurisdictions took turns in hosting the meeting. Over the years SMANZFL has addressed issues such as: proficiency testing, uniform classification of casework and work types, performance indicators, quality assurance, education and training, human resource management, counter terrorism, robotics, and the establishment of the DNA Database1.

SMANZFL was responsible for generating national discussion around technology and direction setting and was the driving force behind establishing an accreditation program in Australia under NATA, including the Forensic Operations Module for laboratories that are required occasionally to present results to courts. SMANZFL was also a major contributor to the introduction of DNA technology in Australia, including the decision for all laboratories to use a single system for the National DNA Database and influenced the structure and implementation the National DNA Database. More recently SMANZFL was closely involved in the development of the Australian Standards for Forensic Science.

SMANZFL and The Specialist Advisory Groups

The Specialist Advisory Groups (SAGs) had been established prior to SMANZFL, but in 1988 it was agreed that SMANZFL take over responsibility for them1. The SAG’s have enabled every laboratory in Australia and New Zealand to contribute and exchange information on technical issues in each discipline in which they provided a service. Originally there were the following five SAGs1;

  • Illicit Drugs/forensic toxicology
  • Forensic chemistry/physical evidence
  • Crime scene/toolmarks/related areas
  • Serology
  • Hairs/fibres

Over the years as technologies improved and demands on services changed, the SAGs also grew and evolved.

Ultimately there were nine SAGs, each one being mentored by a member of the SMANZFL Executive;

  • Biology
  • Chemical Criminalistics
  • Crime Scene and Ballistics
  • Document Examinations
  • Electronic Evidence
  • Fingerprints
  • Illicit Drugs
  • Medical Sciences
  • Toxicology

Scientific Working Groups (SWGs) were established, particularly in Biology and the Medical Sciences SAGs, to support the work of the SAGs. The SAGs reported back to SMANZFL at the annual meeting, providing Directors with contemporary, expert advice.  The purpose of each SAG was to promote science excellence by influencing decisions on the following priorities:

  • Technical systems
  • Research and Development
  • Training
  • Quality
  • Legislative Policy/Framework
  • Communications/representation
  • Critical issues

SMANZFL also created a Quality Managers Forum, which was funded directly by SMANZFL and met on an ad hoc basis. This Forum was open to all Quality Managers.

The SAGs exemplified the value of the SMANZFL/NIFS partnership with the SAGs reporting to SMANZFL but funded in part and supported by NIFS, with NIFS also supporting workshop proposals emanating from the SAGs.

SMANZFL collaborations

Over the years SMANZFL forged links with equivalent international organisations.  A bilateral agreement between the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors (ASCLD) in the USA and SMANZFL was formalized when a letter of understanding (LOU), creating the International Forensic Strategic Alliance (IFSA), was signed in November 2004. In 2007, at the Interpol International Forensic Science Symposium, a new LOU was signed, expanding IFSA to four networks to include the European (ENFSI) and South American (AICEF) laboratory networks. IFSA has continued to grow with the addition of ASFN (Asia) in 2010 and SARFS (South Africa) in 20122.

SMANZFL was also active in setting up partnership projects with stakeholders within the Australian and New Zealand forensic community. One such productive relationship has been the one with the Tasmanian Institute of Law Enforcement Studies (TILES), established in 2002. Since then both ANZPAA NIFS and other agencies have initiated studies with TILES.

This national co-ordination has ensured the forensic sciences in Australasia are of a very high quality and not subject to many of the criticisms made by the National Academy of Science in their 2009 review of forensic science in the USA[1].

Over the years there has been a very close working relationship between SMANZFL and ANZPAA NIFS. SMANZFL has provided scientific direction to ANZPAA NIFS and ANZPAA NIFS has been able to facilitate the advancements through access to funding and involvement of its staff.

A new direction

An independent review of NIFS was conducted by the Honourable Frank Vincent AO QC in 2013. He recommended that NIFS should be representative of the broader forensic landscape and in order to improve the financial viability of NIFS a broader governance and increased funding base should be considered3.

As a consequence of this review the 19 jurisdictional laboratories each agreed to provide funding to NIFS, but in doing so wanted to influence NIFS strategic direction and funding allocations. This resulted in the creation of the Australia New Zealand Forensic Executive Committee (ANZFEC).

The establishment of ANZFEC was significant as it duplicated the membership of SMANZFL and created confusion between the roles of the two bodies. Some agencies began to question their commitment to SMANZFL and in 2016 SMANZFL members voted unanimously to amalgamate SMANZFL into ANZFEC and transfer the management of the SAGs to ANZPAA NIFS3.

The remaining SMANZFL funds were transferred to ANZPAA NIFS to be used for a leadership development scholarship.

SMANZFL held its final meeting on 6 December 2016 at the AFP Forensics Facility, Majura, Canberra.

Acknowledgements

This history of SMANZFL has relied significantly on the paper by Alastair Ross, listed at 1 in the references below and on the knowledge of Dr Hilton Kobus, both of whom, along with the other SMANZFL Chairs, have been major contributors to the advancement of forensic science in Australia over many years.

SMANZFL Functions

  • Provide leadership and best management practice in the forensic sciences
  • Promote interaction and co-operation with stakeholders
  • Promote science excellence
  • Contribute to police issues in the justice system
  • Promote confidence in the forensic science
  • Promote efficient and effective use of resources.

SMANZFL Chairs

  • Dr Bill Tilstone
  • Mr David Gidley
  • Dr James Robertson
  • Mr Wayne Chisnall
  • Dr Hilton Kobus
  • Dr Tony Raymond
  • Supt Paul Stewart
  • Mr Alastair Ross
  • Prof Ross Vining
  • Mr Karl Kent
  • Mr Colin Priddis

References

  1. Ross, AM (2008) A brief history of SMANZFL on the 21st anniversary of its formation. Australian Journal of Forensic Sciences 40:1, 31-35
  2. http://www.ifsa-forensics.org/about-us/
  3. Wilson-Wilde, L (2017) The future of the National Institute of Forensic Science – implications for Australia and New Zealand. Australian Journal of Forensic Sciences 49:1, 1-8.

[1] National Academy of Science.  The future of forensic science: A path forward. 2009

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