The economics and politics of forensic science: A critical reflection on measurement and meaning-making in the audit society


Tasmanian Institute of Law Enforcement Studies, University of Tasmania

Forensic science has the potential to play an increasingly critical role in the criminal justice system. But can this be demonstrated empirically? This paper reflects on lessons learned from a recently completed five-year Australian Research Council project on the ‘Effectiveness of Forensic Science in the Criminal Justice System’. Intelligence-led policing presupposes a rational, evidence-based and proactive approach to addressing crime. The focus is on crime disruption and crime prevention, moving away from traditional reactive policing strategies and practices. Forensic science can support and enhance this move towards proactive policing by shifting attention to its investigative and intelligence value, whilst not losing sight of its evidentiary value to the courts.  To be effective, this requires a reallocation of resources from the ‘back end’ to the ‘front end’ of a criminal investigation; that is, to the use of forensic science in crime scene examination and police investigations. In times of fiscal crisis and budgetary constraints, the onus is on forensic scientists to ‘sell’ this argument to the decision-makers who allocate criminal justice resources. In short, at a time when effectiveness and efficiency dividends are paramount, forensic scientists need to demonstrate the value for money in such a reallocation of resources. This requires an evidence base and a capacity to translate the evidence into policy. In this paper, the author critically reflects on the challenges experienced by the research team as they attempted to establish this evidence base. The critical analysis focuses on (a) the meaning-making processes inherent in the construction of forensic evidence, (b) the assumptions underlying attempts to ‘measure’ the effectiveness of forensic science, (c) the neoliberal context within which demands for economic analyses are made, and (d) the challenges faced by forensic scientists to be ‘heard’ in the policy-making process. The paper raises issues in relation to both the economics and the politics of forensic science in the context of an audit society.


Associate Professor Roberta Julian is the founding Director of the Tasmanian Institute of Law Enforcement Studies (TILES). Over the last decade, she has led an innovative program of research in the emerging field of forensic studies/forensic criminology. She was the lead Chief Investigator in a 5 year Australian Research Council Linkage Grant with Victoria Police, the Australian Federal Police (AFP) and the National Institute of Forensic Science (NIFS) that was completed in 2014. This project examined the effectiveness of forensic science in the criminal justice system with a focus on police investigations and court outcomes.


The society is devoted to promoting criminological study, research and practice in the region and bringing together persons engaged in all aspects of the field. The membership of the society reflects the diversity of persons involved in the field, including practitioners, academics, policy makers and students.

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