Human identification is central to an effective criminal justice process. It is essential that the identity of any individual is established unambiguously before they are arrested charged or tried. The most common means of achieving this worldwide is by comparison of fingerprints taken from the individual with known fingerprint records. Such records can also be used to eliminate potential suspects and identify offenders from fingerprints left at crime scenes. Fingerprints are also one of the four accepted forms of identification for missing persons and disaster victim identification. In recent years a number of high profile cases from around the world, and more particularly from Scotland, have cast doubt on the validity and reliability of fingerprint evidence.

Programme objectives

This programme investigates a number of notable failings in the examination of fingerprint evidence that have undermined the confidence of the judiciary and public leading to appeals, quashed convictions and divided professional communities. We aim to establish how this situation has arisen and how it can be addressed in order to maintain the necessary confidence in use of fingerprints by criminal justice systems. Our aim is to identify the mechanisms necessary for the transformation of fingerprint practices in Scotland and criminal justice systems throughout the world. We seek to engage a wide range of professional stakeholders and academics, to establish the causes of these failings and identify practical steps to address them. The effective resolution of this issue would place Scotland at the forefront of a global paradigm shift in understanding, policies and practices of major significance to criminal justice systems.

Research questions

• What were the contributory factors involved in these misidentifications and instances of poor practice? How might these be understood from a legal, professional, policing, and management science perspective? 
• Is the current procedure for evaluation of fingerprint identifications fit for purpose? 
• Is there a satisfactory mechanism for the probabilistic evaluation of fingerprint evidence? 
• What are the implications of adopting such an approach in legal, professional and training terms? 
• Can human factors such as cognitive bias and the human-machine interface be better understood and minimised? 
• With regard to the issues above, what are the implications for training of fingerprint experts, police and legal personnel? 
• What issues of public confidence and trust need to be addressed?

Programme Team

Prof. Jim Fraser (University of Strathclyde) 
Prof. Sue Black (University of Dundee) 

Mr Tom Nelson (Director, Scottish Police Services Authority Forensic Services)

Final Report


There are no outputs listed for this programme.