Tuesday, 2 November 2010

The Death of David Kelly - Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

It's not a new question. The question in the title of this post is from the Roman poet Juvenal. It captures an idea arguably first put forward by Plato. In modern terms it can broadly be conveyed as "Who audits the auditors?" or "Who judges the judges?".

It was a good question in Plato's time and it's a good question in the context of the death of Dr. David Kelly.

Just who does judge the judges?

When it comes to the interaction between the investigatory system (the Police), the forensic specialists and the judges (Lord Hutton in this case) whose job is it to ensure that everything is above board? Whose job is it to ensure that forensic science is of the very highest quality?

The situation is worryingly similar to that in Plato's time. Nobody.

More worryingly still, the incentives tend towards nobody inside the system wanting to question anything in any fundamental way.

The Police don't want their conviction rate threatened by unwelcome questioning of the validity of forensic science evidence.

The forensic science companies don't want doubt cast on their skills. After all, they have contracts and profits to protect.

The individual forensic scientist doesn't want to be "too rigorous" in case he/she can't find a job with the very small group of forensic science companies or might be viewed by the Police as "unreliable".

And the judges are, in all likelihood, out of their depth and find it comforting to realy on "expert" testimony.

The scene is set for corrupt behaviour, as a result of inadequate checks and balances.

Certainly in 2001 there was already credible concern in professional circles about a range of aspects of the investigation of death in the UK: Full time forensic pathology service needs to be established. (The original article is from the British Medical Journal.)

I began with a quote from Juvenal. I'll finish with two further quotes one from the British Medical Journal editorial and one from Lord Acton.

"The investigation of deaths in England and Wales has not been attracting positive headlines recently."

"Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely."

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