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Digital forensics
Digital forensics

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2 What is forensic science?

At first sight, the answer to this question seems straightforward. The Higher Education Academy offers the following definition:

Forensic science is the application of science to matters of law.

(Higher Education Academy, 2010)

A more careful examination, however, yields some extremely important insights. The ‘science’ part alludes to scientific method and how it might apply both generally and in terms of a specific investigation. The ‘forensic’ element refers to how courts make their decisions. One of the most important lessons is that forensic scientists acting as witnesses are not allowed to usurp the authority and role of the court in reaching its decision. As we will see later, this has a considerable impact on how forensic scientists go about their business, how they write reports for court use, and how they give evidence.

Scientific fact-finding and decision-making are very different to legal fact-finding and decision-making. You need to know the difference, not just because it is an interesting area to think about, but also because it goes to the heart of how forensic investigators generate evidence for use in court. The cultures and expectations of each are different, as is their impact and how each is likely to affect the lives of others.

You need to begin by considering what is meant by science and the scientific method, and then see how it operates within the domain of forensic science.