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Presenting Evidence in Court: Courtroom Assessment Day

Samuel H ATobias14 July 2016

Sam here, checking in again. Classes have come to an end, and my MSc. colleagues and I are all working hard on our respective dissertation projects.

 

The Old Bailey. It's dome is topped by a bronze statue of Justice by sculptor F.W. Pomeroy. © UCL Media Services - University College London

The Old Bailey. Its dome is topped by a bronze statue of Justice by sculptor F.W. Pomeroy. © UCL Media Services – University College London

 

When I first considered a career in forensic science, I sought advice from a friend in the field. He informed me that the skill most often lacking in applications to forensic science jobs is experience in presenting evidence in a courtroom. Knowing that I had to develop that skill to be a competitive applicant, UCL’s MSc. in Crime and Forensic Science appealed to me greatly because it places a great focus on the relationship between the forensic scientist and the criminal justice system.

In the module “Practices of Crime Scene Investigation and Expert Testimony”, we were evaluated on our ability to present our findings from a mock crime scene to a jury. After the presentation of evidence-in-chief (initial explanation of findings, led by questioning by the prosecution), we were grilled by the defence barrister (former forensic science master’s student turned lawyer). We had received formal training from Bond Solon on presenting expert evidence, and this mock court was a way to put that to good use.

 

Bond Solon provided expert witness training for us

Bond Solon provided expert witness training for us

 

Although it was intimidating at times, and questions were sometimes posed to trip us up or to create doubt, taking a deep breath and clearly thinking about how to answer each question was the best way to proceed. The experience showed me how much preparation is involved in expert witness testimony, and how difficult it can be to break down technical knowledge into language that anyone (in this case, the lay jury) can understand. I found that the training we received, along with visits to the Old Bailey to observe a real courtroom, were extremely helpful.

The experience of presenting evidence in court myself as well as observing my classmates’ testimonies helped to solidify the content of this module and the course as a whole.

See my previous posts on the UCL Centre for Forensic Sciences Blog here:

My Master’s Dissertation

Forensic Osteology Module

A Master Student’s Experience at UCL

MariaSchizas3 June 2016

As long as I can remember, I have always wanted to attend UCL, and this became a reality when I was accepted to join a diverse group of students for a Master’s degree in Crime and Forensic Science at the prestigious UCL Centre for the Forensic Sciences. The CFS was founded in 2010 and is the first research centre in the world to develop pioneering and holistic forensic science research for the effective interpretation of forensic evidence, and contribute to the prevention and detection of crime

The courses in the MSc programme are challenging but very enjoyable. I never thought I would end up doing a variety of topics from crime scene investigation to psychology. There is more to forensic science, and crime science in general, than I originally thought – but we still need a whole lot of research, because there are so many areas that need exploration, understanding, and communication.

UCL quad (UCL Media Relations)

UCL quad (UCL Media Relations)

My experience at UCL has been an unforgettable one. Firstly, the city of London is out of this world – there are so many things to occupy your time with. Experiencing such a multicultural city opened my eyes in many ways, especially in thinking of the future and the endless possibilities that a world like ours can offer. Secondly, my Master’s has taught me a lot about the subject I chose as my career path, and the multidisciplinary aspects of crime and forensic science. The lecturers and the PhD students are very knowledgeable in what they do, so getting first-hand experience from the experts themselves enabled me to explore a variety of topics in much more detail. Additionally, having guest speakers talk about what they do in seminars gives crime investigation a diverse spin, and enabled me to see things from different perspectives. Seeing the different perspectives is very important, not just in the crime and forensic sciences, but in life too—it empowers you to understand others and this is an essential skill for living in London, or any other multicultural city.

Each individual is different, and everyone copes with stress in different ways but my top 5 tips for surviving UCL are as follows:

  1. Sleep: never go sleep-deprived. Trust me, I learned it the hard way. Sleeping is important for cognitive functions and without functional cognitive processes, you will find it hard to follow the lectures/seminars, which adds more to your ‘to do list’ at the end of the day.
  2. Look out for learning resources: there are great resources out there to help with writing assignments, I found ‘The elements of style’ to be a lifesaver on many occasions – essays were more enjoyable to write and hopefully better for the markers to read
  3. Choose your optional modules wisely: the last thing you want is to choose a module that you do not enjoy. Make sure to go to the first lecture of each optional module to get an overview of the content, and then make a decision!
  4. Get involved: whether this is through volunteering or by joining societies, make sure to explore the city and the university. This is also a great way to network, meet new people, develop as a person and also de-stress from the work overload.
  5. Finally, have FUN: although it is important to study and get all your coursework done, allow time for doing the other things you enjoy—from going to the pub with friends to walking in the park.

I hope that these top 5 tips and my insight have inspired you to do more research and expand your knowledge through further studies. Whether you are looking to apply to this particular MSc programme or to UCL in general, I promise you that there will be many opportunities for you to develop, which will guide you into your future endeavours!

MSc module assessment – Practices of Crime Scene Investigation and Expert Testimony

MichaelaRegan15 April 2016

Last week, we held the first part of the assessment of our MSc students on the Practices of Crime Scene Investigation and Expert Testimony module, aka CSI. The MSc students were given a fictitious crime scenario which they used to ask additional questions and then locate and collect items of evidence at a mock crime scene. This was my first year assisting on this module as a TA and I found it a very fascinating experience. Throughout the module, the students have practicals on different areas of the crime scene investigation including, documentation, packaging, evidence recovery and contamination-minimisation procedures. These are to prepare for this final mock crime scene and to give them an idea of what to expect when approaching and examining a crime scene.

IMG_20160211_150926064_HDR

The students during their practicals

With identical training, one might expect the students to address the crime scene challenge in the same way. However, seeing the different approaches that each student takes and the different thought processes that go on has been very interesting. It is remarkable how some items of evidence or questions to ask for further information are more obvious to some people than others. It also shows that some people have a natural knack for this type of work compared to others. Next week is the second part of the assessment in which the students give evidence on their crime scene examination in a mock courtroom setting…I wonder how varied their testimonies will be?

A Forensic Science Experience

MariaSchizas11 April 2016

What is forensic science? Many people would reply to that by saying something along the lines of “science as it pertains to the law”—and they are not wrong; but they are not giving the full definition of forensic science either. I was one of these people.

Before attending UCL for the Master’s degree in Crime and Forensic Science, I studied Medical Biochemistry. I went from studying the proteins and biochemical processes that make humans, humans…to a mixture of psychology, law and forensic science utilised in criminal investigations.

Getting used to this new way of thinking was the hardest aspect of this change in subject, and sometimes it still is. But it is worth it! Yes, it required that I had to catch up on a lot, from the basics to the content of the lectures (and beyond!), but I enjoyed doing it. I cannot complain about the reading; after all, it is a postgraduate degree and having no background in this area meant that I had to work twice as hard. Literally, forensic science (and food) was all I thought about. It had trapped me in an infinite loop of information—but so did proteins, so I knew I made the right choice in pursuing an additional dream!

cartooncrimelab Forensic science is a broad topic, and the CSI shows on TV only capture a small portion of what it actually entails. My advice is, if you want to go into forensic science and/or crime scene investigation, do not rely on the CSI shows to give an accurate depiction. Indeed, they are helpful as an introduction to forensic science—but just like the definition, the shows do not cover the whole arena. Undertaking a 12 month course on a given topic without a reality-check may leave you feeling disappointed; however, you get to learn about a lot of  fun and unimaginable topics by pursuing a forensic science degree. I certainly did, and I am sure you can too!

Side-note: not all of those high-tech machines you see on TV exist…but there are some really awesome ones that do—refer to a previous post on http://blogs.ucl.ac.uk/forensic-sciences/cfs-seminar-series-mike-ferguson-cast/.