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Dismantling the Justice Silos

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Kelty et al 2013

Forensic science is increasingly relied on by police and the courts to exonerate the innocent and to establish links to crime. With this increased reliance the potential for unjust outcomes increases, especially in serious matters for two reasons. The more serious the matter, the more likely that evidence mishandling can lead to wrongful imprisonment, and the more likely the personnel involved will be multi-disciplinary (police, medicine, law, forensic science), and multi-organisational (Health, Justice, private legal/medical, police). The importance of identifying effective multi-organisational interactions was highlighted in the recent wrongful imprisonment of an Australian male for a sexual assault he did not commit. One factor that led to this unjust outcome was the justice silo effect: where forensic practitioners from different agencies operate in isolation (rarely communicating or sharing information/ knowledge). In this paper we discuss findings from the Interfaces Project designed to assess the extent of the justice silos within Australia. We interviewed 103 police, forensic scientists, lawyers, judges, coroners, pathologists and forensic physicians Australian-wide. Five main themes were identified in the data: the silo effect was only partial and in each jurisdiction some form of inter-agency communication was actively occurring; inter-agency meetings were more common in homicide than sexual assault cases; forensic physicians were semi-invisible; there had been considerable momentum over the past ten years for practice improvement groups, and; practitioners gain more benefits than pitfalls from interagency information-sharing. Based on these findings, five recommendations are made for improving practice.

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