Forensic science and global justice

Access to justice

Violent crime is a concern for all countries and criminal justice systems, but in low-resource environments such as developing countries, displaced communities, and conflict settings the risk of violent crime is disproportionately high.

Reporting and prosecution rates in low-resource environments are particularly low, and lack of access to high-quality forensic evidence is often a challenge. Our research overcomes some of these barriers by challenging existing practices and providing innovative forensic approaches to support investigations and prosecutions in some of the most difficult circumstances globally.

Tackling sexual violence in low-resource environments

Sexual violence is one of the most devastating consequences of gender inequality globally, and access to justice in low-resource environments is particularly challenging. Almost non-existent prosecution rates for these crimes affects confidence in the criminal justice system, exacerbates low reporting rates, and sustains a culture of impunity for perpetrators. 

forensic science and global justice team

Professor Lisa Smith (Criminology), Professor Mark Jobling (Genetics and Genome Biology), and Dr Jon Wetton (Genetics and Genome Biology) are working with NGO, government, and industry partners to field test and implement novel forensic DNA collection kits. These kits can be used to collect and preserve DNA evidence in cases of sexual violence, even when it is not possible for a victim to access a hospital or medical professional for an examination – as is often the case in low-resource settings.

Pilot testing of the DNA kits in Kenya also involves comprehensive training of NGOs, police, and the prosecution service to build capacity for the use of forensic evidence in the context of sexual violence investigations and prosecutions. Once the kits have been successfully implemented in Kenya, the team aims to scale up this approach to other regions and humanitarian crises around the world.

working with the nairobi womens hospital

Award-winning work

THE award graphicThe team was awarded the 2018 Times Higher Education Research Project of the Year (Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences) Award in recognition of their work on this project.

The award judges were “excited by the potential of this project to tackle a major issue and secure justice for victims of crime”. They admired both the technical innovation and the way that the researchers had considered the socio-economic and legal frameworks in which the kits would be used.

In brief

Project title: Forensic DNA innovations to enhance accountability for sexual violence

Partners: Wangu Kanja Foundation, Regional Training Facility for the Great Lakes Region, Dr Heather Flowe (University of Birmingham) 

Funding/support: Humanitarian Innovation Fund (Elrha), GCRF Impact Accelerator institutional award, Religions for Peace, and the Foundation Peace Dialogue of the World Religions and Civil Society

Researcher profile: Professor Lisa Smith

Professor Lisa Smith joined the School of Criminology in January 2011, after spending five years in the Forensic Psychology department at Leicester. After completing her BSc in Psychology (with a minor of study in Philosophy of Law) at the University of Toronto, she completed an MSc in Forensic and Legal Psychology at the University of Leicester, followed by a PhD in Psychology at Leicester. Prior to relocating to the UK from Canada, Lisa worked with the Ontario Provincial Police as the Program Coordinator of a victim services response unit.

View Professor Smith's Research Luminaries page