In November, NATA was proud to sponsor the 23rd Triennial meeting of the International Association of Forensic Sciences #IAFS2023. It was held at ICC in Sydney in conjunction with the 26th Symposium of the Australian and New Zealand Forensic Science Society. Delegates, guest speakers and Forensic experts from around the world attended and presented during the week-long event.
It was great to see such a well-attended event. We were warmed by the reaction at our booth from many familiar faces, as well as international delegates meeting us for the first time. A number of the global contingent felt slightly envious that Australian labs have access to a forensic specific accreditation program as many countries do not offer this. It was nice to hear NATA accreditation held in high regard with our technical assessors having forensic backgrounds.
‘Where to from here’ was the symposium theme with speakers and presenters focusing on this question. Experts and upcoming students, from many forensic industries attended, and presented on topics such a case file studies, research, international issues, cybercrime, biometrics, and the common forensic subjects including crime scene, fingerprints, firearms, biology, coronial and chemistry.
One significant point of discussion, which was a reoccurring theme throughout the event, was around workforce shortages. It’s becoming an increasing concern for those within forensic laboratories as well as most other industries, and just as with others the answers are not clear cut. A variety of environmental factors are at play, and it bears thinking for all in the industry of better ways of recruiting and then importantly, retaining staff, and this comes back to leadership, working conditions, culture and prioritising mental health.
One case study we attended investigated the environmental situation at Lake Geneva, where the otter population has been destroyed. Through large-scale surveillance, they found Hydrophobic Contaminants had worked their way into the water in Lake Geneve. The source came from a nearby landfill site at one end of the lake, which resulted in killing the fish and in turn wiped out the otter population.
Biometric advancements with unknown fingerprint identification were also discussed with one session looking into Lights out latents, (LOL), used by Queensland Police. It relies on a computer to return a potential ‘Hit’ with an unknown fingerprint from a crime scene, matching against a known fingerprint on the NAFIS database. This is information is used and reported for intelligence purposed only, and subsequent human analysis is still required to formally confirm identity. As some will no doubt be aware, a new biometrics system has recently been adopted in Australia, NAFIS NextGen. While LOL currently runs on a separate system, the future plan is to integrate it within NAFIS NextGen and roll it out across all jurisdictions.
There is a growing interest in ISO 17043, and ISO 21043 part 1 to 4 (not completely released to date) as well as continued discussions around how we can continue to improve forensic testing in the industry.
Elsewhere a number of session leaders noted the expanded use of Investigative Forensic genealogy as a tool for difficult cases. Cold cases can be sprung open using this method, and it continues to evolve.
And lastly Cybercrime and ways of combating it, will be one of the biggest topics over the next 5 years. We’ll require continued interjurisdictional collaboration. It’s not only cybercrime, but also illicit drugs, which are impacted and not limited by country borders.
Judging by the prevalence of sessions this year, I suspect it will continue to dominate our industry and this is where digital forensics have a big part to play. So, expect more to follow at the next IAFS 2026!