Leicester academic to provide top-level expert forensic advice

Professor Mark Jobling, of the Department of Genetics & Genome Biology, has been appointed as one of seven new members of the Biometrics and Forensics Ethics Group (BFEG; https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/biometrics-and-forensics-ethics-group/about), an advisory non-departmental public body sponsored by the Home Office.

The BFEG recently replaced the earlier National DNA Database Ethics Group, reflecting the need for an extended remit to include ethical issues associated with all forensic identification techniques including DNA analysis, facial recognition technology and fingerprinting. Its role is to provide strategic independent advice to the Home Office ensuring that the evidence underpinning biometrics and forensics policy development is robust.

Mark Jobling said: “Forensic genetics is the translational aspect of our work on human genetic diversity, and can make a real difference to society. The work of the BFEG is important because it helps to preserve public trust in forensic and biometric identification methods. It’s also interesting, with an opportunity to interact with experts from different disciplines, and stakeholders from government, law-enforcement and civil liberties groups.”

Chris Hughes OBE, Chair of the BFEG, said: “I’m delighted to be welcoming this group of outstanding applicants to be part of the Biometrics and Forensics Ethics Group. They bring a wealth of experience and will help us to provide independent advice on the ethical impacts of all aspects of biometrics and forensics within the Home Office’s remit.”

Among the forensic methods being discussed by the BFEG are new DNA-based methods for the prediction of phenotypes such as hair and eye colour, and for male-specific identification – an area in which the University of Leicester has carried out world-leading research. Jobling said: ‘These methods are potentially valuable, but need to be assessed and introduced with care and a clear consideration of their potential ethical pitfalls’.