Forensic Odontology in the United Kingdom

Klaus Rötzscher (ed.)Forensic and Legal Dentistry201410.1007/978-3-319-01330-5_10

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2014

10. Forensic Odontology in the United Kingdom

Ian R. Hill  and James Hardy 
(1)

International Organisation for Forensic Odontostomatology – IOFOS, London, UK
(2)

Criminolgy Department, Portsmouth University, Portsmouth, UK
 
 
Ian R. Hill (Corresponding author)
 
James Hardy
Abstract
Despite the historical record, the United Kingdom, like other countries, was slow to recognize the value of forensic odontology as an adjunct to legal proceedings. Increased recognition of the benefits bestowed by the subject largely results from the efforts of Scandinavian workers and the Federation Dentaire International (FDI). By promoting forensic odontology in the academic environment, the FDI and its contributors did much to underscore its claims to academic respectability. This has led to its acceptance in assisting the legal process in many countries, although it remains a minority speciality. Like other jurisdictions, British courts have recognized that dental expertise can be useful in resolving legal questions. However, it has to be accepted that it is an adjunct to these proceedings, and not a prime mover. Trial by experts is not liked by the courts; they prefer a system in which all of the evidence placed before them is considered in context, and not in isolation. Only in that way can a true determination of the issues be made. It is this dislike, or perhaps concern that experts could usurp the role of the court, that has been an impediment to the acceptance of the expert in trials. However, despite these misgivings, forensic odontology is widely accepted by all of the UK courts. Increasing sophistication in the methodologies available means that the value placed on the subject has increased. The courts have recognized this and are much more demanding of those who would claim that they are experts. This is quite different from some aspects of an editorial in The Lancet for 15 December 1951, which reported that “teeth have often played a distinctive part in reconstructing crime” (Anon 1951).

10.1 Introduction

Despite the historical record, the United Kingdom, like other countries, was slow to recognize the value of forensic odontology as an adjunct to legal proceedings. Increased recognition of the benefits bestowed by the subject largely results from the efforts of Scandinavian workers and the Federation Dentaire International (FDI). By promoting forensic odontology in the academic environment, the FDI and its contributors did much to underscore its claims to academic respectability. This has led to its acceptance in assisting the legal process in many countries, although it remains a minority speciality. Like other jurisdictions, British courts have recognized that dental expertise can be useful in resolving legal questions. However, it has to be accepted that it is an adjunct to these proceedings, and not a prime mover. Trial by experts is not liked by the courts; they prefer a system in which all of the evidence placed before them is considered in context, and not in isolation. Only in that way can a true determination of the issues be made. It is this dislike, or perhaps concern that experts could usurp the role of the court, that has been an impediment to the acceptance of the expert in trials. However, despite these misgivings, forensic odontology is widely accepted by all of the UK courts. Increasing sophistication in the methodologies available means that the value placed on the subject has increased. The courts have recognized this and are much more demanding of those who would claim that they are experts. This is quite different from some aspects of an editorial in The Lancet for 15 December 1951, which reported that “teeth have often played a distinctive part in reconstructing crime” (Anon 1951).
The writer’s enthusiasm hid the fact that at that time there were few practitioners, they worked in isolation, and there was no recognized training.
Obviously, there is a need for those professing special knowledge to prove that they are thus qualified, and this means that those aspiring to be forensic odontologists have to acquire the requisite knowledge. Those who have been accredited must show evidence of continuing professional development. Much of the impetus for the provision of educational facilities in the United Kingdom has come from the British Association for Forensic Odontology, which was founded in 1982, with the aid of IOFOS, the FDI, and the British Dental Association (Hill et al. 1984).
At the present time (2013), the United Kingdom is in the fortunate position of having sufficient forensic odontologists to meet the needs of HM coroners, procurators fiscal, the police, UK Disaster Victim Identification Teams (UKDVI), and other disaster management organizations and social services. The United Kingdom at present has a reserve pool of qualified and accredited forensic odontologists resulting from the numbers of dental practitioners attending the Diploma in Forensic Odontology courses, MSc courses in Forensic Odontology, and other related courses in recent years. However, the outlook for the future training of forensic odontologists in the United Kingdom is uncertain due to the recent termination of a number of these recognized courses.

10.2 Dental Law in the United Kingdom

10.2.1 The Legal Basis of Expert Evidence

The conditions governing the provision of expert evidence in UK courts reside in the complex web of laws of evidence. These have a common law ancestry, and this sometimes predisposes them to some criticism. As Keane (1994, pp. 1–3 and 15–18) says, “the modern law of evidence remains essentially a case-law subject, built on common law principles and overlaid with a statutory veneer.” Not surprisingly, this leaves the laws open to challenge, especially where admissibility is concerned. The details of these conflicts and the law itself are outwith the scope of this book, suffice it to say that the primary object is to provide a forum wherein a fair assessment of admissible evidence is made. If evidence is to be admitted, it must be relevant, and not excluded by any rule of the law of evidence. A consequence of this is that, no matter how relevant some evidence is, it may be excluded. An out-of-court statement about the case, such as an admission of guilt by a third party, would be excluded under the rule of hearsay. Lay people sometimes find these rules hard to accept, believing that they can be inimical to the search for justice.
Many countries have adopted the English system of justice, which is based on a Common Law approach, and is characterized by an adversarial approach to the judicial process, as opposed to the inquisitorial system used in Roman Law jurisdictions. Variations do exist in the way that the English system operates in different countries, as is seen in the United Kingdom, where England, Wales, and Ireland are essentially the same, but Scottish Law is an amalgam of English Law and Continental Law resulting from its alliances with France. Even where the systems are similar, such as in Ireland, it must be remembered that they are separate systems (Spencer 1990). There is much reciprocity between the English and the Scottish systems, with decisions finding their way into one another’s deliberations. Similarly, there is a free flow of experts across the boundary. English and Scottish laws have influenced the legal systems in many countries, especially those in the British Commonwealth and the United States, but they are sovereign states; thus, they are not bound by British decisions and have their own law and procedures. There is also some reciprocity between decisions made in Australia, New Zealand, and Canada and the law in the United Kingdom.
While these differences are important, reflecting cultural and procedural demands, they do not materially affect the way in which forensic odontologists work; Scotland may demand that two odontologists examine the case. In practice, a free flow of experts operates across the border, and there is unanimity in their approach, with common professional development, standards, and methodologies. There are though differences in the court structure, and those working in Scotland are required to add to their statements the words that they testify on soul and conscience. Although the differences are largely procedural and therefore not relevant to the practice of making a forensic examination or the principles underlying the basis of opinion, they are important. There are also differences in procedure in the civil, criminal, coroner, and sheriff’s courts, and forensic odontologists should be aware of the differences. A lack of awareness of the matter of the proceedings.

10.3 Training

As a subject and speciality, forensic dentistry in the United Kingdom has always taken a low priority in the undergraduate teaching curriculum in dental schools. Indeed at undergraduate level, teaching tends to be opportunistic, with little formal recognition. Similarly in the past, postgraduate education was sporadic. The first serious attempt to address the problem of this lack of training was the introduction in 1984 of the postgraduate Diploma in Forensic Odontology (Dip F Od) course run at the London Hospital Medical College. This was a day release course that proved to be extremely popular. The course extended over three 10-week terms at the end of which the students sat a written examination, had a viva, and gave a presentation of an original research project conducted by themselves. This was a highly successful course. After 4 years, it closed and, following a few years break, moved to the University of Hertfordshire where it continued to run for a further 4 years.
For several years, an MSc course in forensic odontology was run at the University of Cardiff in Wales under the direction of Professor David Whitaker. Following his retirement, Dr. Cath Adams continued to run the course for several years in Cardiff. More recently, the course has been run at the University of Glamorgan, although now 2013 the last intake of students is undergoing training. There are no plans to enroll more students for future courses at the University of Glamorgan.
The Centre for Forensic and Legal Medicine at the University of Dundee has recently started accepting students for their Master of Forensic Odontology course, a 1-year full-time postgraduate degree course. This is not, however, a route to dental registration nor does it accord the right to practice forensic odontology in the United Kingdom.
While there are a number of other educational institutions in the United Kingdom offering courses in allied forensic disciplines, e.g., the Society Apothecaries, none of which purport to qualify those attending to become forensic odontologists.
The UK armed forces have a tri-service dental branch Navy (Royal Navy, Army, and Royal Air Force), providing a tri-service Dental Identification Team (DIT). In recent years, team members have been very active in assisting with the postmortem identifications of members of UK armed forces killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Team members have deployed to Iraq as part of a forensic investigation team. A number of team members deployed to Thailand in 2004/2005 to assist with the identification of victims of the Asian Tsunami.
The UK armed forces dental services are subscribers to the NATO STANAG 2464 that is involved with the provision of military dental field identification services. DIT members undergo frequent refresher training in order to keep their skills up-to-date and ready for deployment.

10.4 Accreditation of Forensic Odontologists in the United Kingdom

For many years in the United Kingdom, there was no accreditation process for forensic odontologists. Police, coroners, procurators fiscal, lawyers, or any investigating authority requiring the service of a forensic odontologist for identification or criminal casework would contact a local general dental practitioner or hospital-based specialist and request them to perform the necessary service. In the majority of cases, there was little evidence base for their selection, convenience and locality being the usual criteria.
The British Association for Forensic Odontology (BAFO) was aware of this unsatisfactory arrangement and, in response, drew up a register of forensic odontologists from its members. The register was divided in two: an A list gave details of the more experienced members, while a B list provided details of less experienced BAFO members but who wished to be considered for work. These lists were circulated to police, coroners, and procurators fiscal and published on the BAFO website.
In 1999, the Council for the Registration of Forensic Practitioners (CRFP) was established in the United Kingdom in response to concerns about miscarriages of justice in which deficient scientific evidence was implicated and to promote public confidence in forensic practice in the United Kingdom. Without a credible professional register, both public confidence and the credibility of evidence given in court could be greatly affected. Forensic odontologists were encouraged to register with the CRFP. BAFO had a very large part to play in drawing up the guidelines for acceptance onto the register, and several BAFO members were co-opted onto the CRFP accreditation board. Unfortunately, on 31 March 2009, the CRFP ceased to exist.
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Nov 26, 2015 | Posted by in General Dentistry | Comments Off on Forensic Odontology in the United Kingdom
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