NRGD Annual Report 2021
In this annual report, we look back on 2021 as well as on the first ten years of our organisation's existence. A remarkable milestone. Ten years of connecting law and science, that is something of which we are proud.
In this annual report, we look back on 2021 as well as on the first ten years of our organisation's existence. A remarkable milestone. Ten years of connecting law and science, that is something of which we are proud.
Our symposium in Tivoli Vredenburg, in Utrecht in the Netherlands, was visited by all different stakeholders who make NRGD what it is: a register and quality standards institute for the judicial system. The contributions of various speakers and presentations reflected how far the NRGD has come since 2010. Whereas the register had still been empty at that time, it now lists around 600 experts from 11 fields of expertise and 18 subfields. While the main focus at that time was on the register, it is now increasingly shifting towards the quality assurance role that the NRGD fulfils. Advice and the systemic role are growing in importance as well, as this 2021 report also shows.
What is most striking, looking back at 2021, is how the NRGD was able to facilitate work in progress while at the same time growing steadily to become a single register for the entire judicial system. Sometimes this leads to challenges in logistics and organisation, but together we can deal with them. Throughout this growth, the NRGD nonetheless continues to safeguard its values: conscientious, transparent, cooperative and above all independent.
The COVID-19 pandemic continued to impact us in various ways this year. To a large extent, it continued to determine our work location, to necessitate digital and hybrid variants of what were formerly face-to-face meetings, and to impose travel restrictions that compelled us to find different ways to provide for the international aspect of our activities. The year under review was an intense year for all of us, at both the professional and personal levels. I am happy to say that as Board, Bureau and Committee members, we keenly felt and stepped up to shoulder our responsibilities. We can therefore close 2021 as a meaningful year.
Chairman, Board of Court Experts of the NRGD
About the NRGD
The Netherlands Register of Court Experts is the foremost forensic quality standards organisation for the judicial system in the Netherlands. It is centred on cooperation both in the Netherlands and abroad. The NRGD ensures that forensic experts and their reports comply with nationally and internationally applicable standards. This enables stakeholders to have confidence in the quality of forensic experts’ analyses.
As an independent and transparent organisation, the NRGD promotes and safeguards the quality of forensic expertise. It also stimulates the development of the quality of the field of forensics as a whole. The NRGD concentrates on regulation, advice and knowledge exchange.
Results and new developments in 2021
- DNA field of expertise: The first experts for DNA Kinship Analysis and DNA Activity Level were registered. The register is thus in step with the developments in the judicial system.
- Forensic Medical Examination field of expertise: For two years, the NRGD worked in consultation with organisations and practitioners in the field on the assessment framework for Forensic Medical Examination. The Netherlands Register of Court Experts Board adopted the assessment framework. The Forensic Medical Examination field of expertise was opened for applications for registration as from 1 December 2021. The addition of Forensic Medical Examination is aligned with the growth model targeting a situation with properly qualified forensic physicians.
- Forensic Archaeology field of expertise: In 2021, the NRGD engaged in extensive dialogue with organisations and practitioners in this field, such as the professional association (the Royal Netherlands Institute of Chartered Accountants, NBA), the Netherlands Authority for the Financial Markets AFM, coordinators and accountants themselves. The need for standardisation and registration is widely endorsed. The Standard-Setting Advisory Committee (Normstellingsadviescommissie, NAC) will commence its work at the start of 2022.
- Forensic Psychiatry, Psychology and Child and Youth Care Sciences field of expertise: The Board adopted the Policy Rule on a customised approach to retirement, so as to maximise opportunities for reporters to continue working for as long as possible. This group of reporters is eligible, without substantive assessment, for extension of their NRGD registration for up to two years but not beyond the expiry of their BIG registration. In addition, the review of the NIFP’s Pro Justitia reporter training programme was completed, resulting in a positive recommendation from the assessment panel and in recognition of the programme by the Board. The NIFP itself will from now on safeguard the quality of its study programme, with additional monitoring by the NRGD.
- Handwriting field of expertise: This is a field that is small but still in demand. International contacts were called on in 2021 in an effort to attract new assessors. The expansion into civil and administrative law may also generate new growth in the number of experts.
- Survey among chain partners on which additional areas should also be standardised in the NRGD: The areas most frequently mentioned by the chain partners are being assessed in greater detail. These are: radiology, dactyloscopy, image research & biometrics and explosions & explosives investigation. The Board will take a decision on which fields are to be added, and in what order.
- The Ad Hoc tools for experts who have previously never or only rarely reported in criminal law cases are consulted frequently via the NRGD website. The tools, for instance on writing an adequate report, also became available in English in 2021. Requests for Report feedback were also received. An initial evaluation will take place in 2022.
The NRGD received around 2,300 forensic expert registration/re-registration applications between 2010 and 2020. The NRGD processed 179 applications across 11 fields of expertise in 2021, of which 11 applications (6%) were rejected in 2021.
The Forensic Psychiatry, Psychology and Child and Youth Care Sciences field of expertise accounted for the largest number of registration or re-registration applications. A total of 147 applications were received in that field of expertise, of which 9 (6%) were rejected because the experts concerned did not satisfy the quality requirements prescribed by law. Three of the re-registration applications for the Forensic Psychiatry, Psychology and Child and Youth Care Sciences field of expertise resulted in a conditional registration.
The average processing time for an application was 2.5 months in 2021.
Forensic Psychiatry, Psychology and Child and Youth Care Sciences re-registrations:
- 88 unconditional
- 46 conditional
- 41 conditional: recently qualified reporters are entered in the register on a conditional basis for the first two years.
- 5 reporters were registered conditionally on substantive grounds.
- 9 substantive refusals
- 4 other
Objection, appeal, complaints and reports
In 2021, the NRGD received and dealt with five notices of objection. These related to rejections of applications for re-registration or a decision on conditional registration in various fields of expertise.
In four cases, the Advisory Committee for Objections advised the Board to uphold the contested decision. In the case of the objection concerning a rejection after an unconditional registration, the Advisory Committee for Objections advised the Board to conditionally re-register the expert concerned after all. The Board followed the advice of the Advisory Committee for Objections in all cases.
In 2021, the NRGD received a complaint concerning processing by the ACA and the manner of processing, and its duration, by the Board of the application for registration. In this matter, the Board arranged for a review to be carried out because of its concerns regarding the substantiation of the ACA's advice. The resulting learning from this for the Board is that it must communicate even more actively with applicants on the reasons for any delays in processing applications and the expected date of the decision on them.
Fields of expertise
Since its establishment in 2010, in consultation with expert practitioners, the NRGD has standardised the following 11 fields of expertise with 18 subfields:
- Forensic Psychiatry, Psychology and Child and Youth Care Sciences with four subfields
- DNA analysis and interpretation with three subfields
- Handwriting analysis
- Drugs with two subfields
- Toxicological analysis
- Forensic Weapon and Ammunition Examination
- Assessment against the Weapons and Ammunition Act
- Forensic Pathology
- Digital Forensics with six subfields
- Legal Psychology with three subfields
- Forensic Medical Examination with two subfields
Continuing development of standardisation and assessment
The policy of the NRGD is aimed at ensuring that if an organisation demonstrably has a sound training programme and examination, an expert will not be re-examined by the NRGD. This recognition is not granted easily, however. The training programme is regularly reviewed (upon launch, after two years and subsequently every five years) by an independent assessment panel and, in addition, one of the members of the examination board that conducts the examinations also acts as external examiner from the NRGD. The external examiner monitors on behalf of the NRGD whether candidates satisfy the NRGD quality requirements, has an independent position with regard to the interests of the organisation concerned and has a right of veto. That creates a hybrid overall process: hands-off where possible, individual assessment where required.
In connection with this policy on recognition, the NRGD worked with the following organisations:
- NIFP (Netherlands Institute of Forensic Psychology and Psychiatry): 2019 was the first year in which the NIFP’s Pro Justitia reporter study programme was recognised. An annual evaluation was carried out with the external examiners in 2021. The review in 2021 was successful and confirmed that the NIFP has established a robust study programme. In future, around 40 NIFP-trained experts will be able to join each year without additional assessment.
- NVMSR (Dutch Association for Medical Specialist Reporting): an association of medical specialists engaged in administrative-law and civil-law reporting. Examples include reporting in cases concerning incapacity for work, medical liability or personal injury. The recognition of the NVMSR's training programme is a next step in expanding the NRGD with experts reporting in civil-law and administrative-law cases.
- NFI (Netherlands Forensic Institute): the NFI has an extensive quality system comprising an initial training programme and a policy to ensure that knowledge and experience are maintained at the required level thereafter. The talks with the NFI were at an advanced stage in 2021.
- StAB (Foundation Advising Courts in Environmental Law and Spatial Planning Disputes): exploratory discussions were continued with the StAB in 2021. In that connection, the StAB introduced a number of changes in its quality system, including aspects regarding external assurance.
Conducting forensic financial investigations and drawing up reports require specific knowledge and experience. Although there has been growing attention in recent years for forensic financial investigation in connection with fraud, corruption and money laundering, this area of specialisation has not yet been standardised and registered. The NRGD engaged in extensive dialogue with organisations and practitioners in this field in 2021, such as the professional association (the Royal Netherlands Institute of Chartered Accountants, NBA), the Netherlands Authority for the Financial Markets AFM, coordinators for improvement in the accountancy sector and the accountants themselves. The need for standardisation and registration is widely endorsed. The NRGD aims to open this field of expertise in 2022.
Standardisation of the Gunshot Residue field of expertise (also known as GSR) commenced in 2020. Partly due to differing views on the required competencies, this was not all plain sailing. Experts can apply for entry in the register after this field of expertise opens for registration in early 2022.
A single register of experts for the entire judicial system
The NRGD is working towards a register for the entire judicial system. As in the case of the criminal justice system, there also is a need in the administrative and civil justice systems for suitable experts who are fully conversant with their field. Given that at present the NRGD only has a statutory basis for criminal law under the Dutch Criminal Code, a legislative amendment is required for this. In anticipation of that legislative amendment, a covenant was concluded with the NVMSR in 2020, in consultation with the Ministry. The covenant focuses on the recognition of the NVMSR training programme for medical specialists who act in administrative and civil proceedings.
Progress on the path towards a statutory expansion continued in 2021. The direction to be taken in follow-up steps was firmed up in departmental consultations. It was agreed that a knowledge group will be established in 2022 with the Ministry of Justice and Security, the judiciary and the NRGD to implement the amendment in the law.
This is reinforced by the standardisation of the Forensic Accountancy field of expertise, within which experts also regularly act in branches of law other than criminal law only. Other areas in which there is some overlap between branches of law include the Forensic Psychiatry, Psychology and Child and Youth Care Sciences field of expertise, the Handwriting field of expertise and the Digital Forensics field of expertise.
National Police (NP)
The NP's forensic officers collect evidence, conduct further investigation and, increasingly, interpret the data obtained. Examples include blood spatter stain patterns and digital forensics. Around 1,500 staff work in the ‘traditional’ forensic investigation team. Many employees left due to retirement in recent years, which placed substantial pressure on continuity. They are increasingly being succeeded by recent graduates in forensics from universities of applied sciences. Huge growth is occurring at the new, digital branch (DO). More than 1,000 employees work there. The importance of investing in good and assured quality of execution by the police is continually growing (see also Expertgroep Forensisch onderzoek en innovatie, driejaarlijkse signalering, Zouridis, 2016 (Forensic Investigation and Innovation Expert Group, Three-year survey, Zouridis, 2016).
The minister is committed to shifting activities, where possible, from the NFI to the police and to stepping up the use of private parties. DNA analysis is an example of this. The idea is that the NFI will then better be able to focus on its role as a leading forensic institute, but continuing budgetary constraints also play a part in this.
Following a 2009 European Directive, the police was accredited in 2019 for dactyloscopy (fingerprint) by the independent Dutch Accreditation Council (Raad voor Accreditatie). In addition, forensic investigation at the police is also accredited for rapid DNA at the crime scene (L650) and the Customs lab (L226), besides dactyloscopy (website of Dutch Accreditation Council L640). The police has stated its aim of pursuing further quality assurance and is investing in a quality structure (see Development Agenda for investigation, track 3, 2018). Where this is not really feasible, it focuses on outsourcing (public-private partnerships).
The police and NRGD agreed in this connection in 2019 to exchange knowledge. A joint exploratory study in the field of bloodstain pattern analysis and dactyloscopy confirmed that mutual cooperation contributes to advancing the development of and embedding a quality system. The police and NRGD agreed to implement specific collaborative projects in 2022.
Current legislation however does not offer the option of establishing and/or strengthening a quality assurance system. The NRGD's statutory powers to do so are comparatively limited, as the scope of its authority does not extend to the forensic investigation/digital forensics departments of the National Police.
The NRGD has been informed of a number of proposals and practical initiatives but is concerned about the present lack of a broad action plan geared to delivering a uniform robust quality system, with requirements proportionate to the task. The NRGD could play a role in putting in place a demonstrable quality assurance system.
The Directorate for Legislation of the Ministry of Justice & Security has held several expert meetings at which participants expressed the wish that, in line with the Minister's view as stated in 2018, quality must be assured from the crime scene to the trial. The need for a statutory basis for assuring forensic quality including that of the police was widely supported.
ISO is a global standardisation organisation in which countries voluntarily cooperate to establish international quality standards. The importance of certified forensic expertise is increasingly recognised internationally as well. The Netherlands, with its open borders, has a clear interest in this and is accordingly a highly active participant. The Public Prosecution Service, the Netherlands Forensic Institute (NFI) and the NRGD are working closely together in this area, A forensic standard for digital forensics already exists. Work is currently under way on a broad set of standards imposing requirements on organisations (the police and government/commercial laboratories) with which the activities must comply, from crime scene to trial. For example, those standards require staff to have been adequately trained and to have passed examinations for the position in which they serve. Owing to the coronavirus, one round of consultations was held in an online format. On the basis of that experience, it was decided to suspend such meetings until they can be held face to face once more.
ISO standards are only compulsory after they have been incorporated in EU/national legislation, as was the case for the Directive on DNA and dactyloscopy. In anticipation of the broad standards, the NRGD advocates adding digital forensics to the existing EU Directive on DNA and dactyloscopy.
Judiciary, Public Prosecution Service, Legal profession
The judicial system benefits from opposition, including from experts where necessary. In this context, the NRGD register aims to provide (in line with a request from the Minister) a broad offering of certified experts. On the recommendation of the Winsemius Committee, the Minister made funding available to increase the offering of counter-experts in the NFI's fields of expertise. Whether that will succeed will however depend mainly on actually creating longer-term demand and hence on the way the allocation of the funds is organised. A segment – albeit still small – for counter-expertise can only emerge if private providers are given sufficient cases, for a sufficient number of years, at an adequate price. Unfortunately, the number of counter-experts in the register has clearly hardly grown since the funding was made available. Except for DNA, few cases are offered to private providers. The Ministry has taken the initiative to look at the present approach. The NRGD is actively providing input in a working group that has been established and in a steering group.
There is a comparable need for counter-expertise or a second opinion among behavioural experts. Together with the legal profession and the NRGD, the NIFP is organising a meeting on reporting for the defence. This will be held in 2022 due to the coronavirus.
As stated, the importance of forensic expertise and counter-expertise and the use of (counter-)experts is continually growing. This involves more than just the availability of competent (counter-)experts, as it includes agreements with the judicial system on the terms of reference, consultation by the lawyer with the expert, making context information available to the expert etc. This is all the more applicable to expertise at the activities level, for which more information is required.
The NRGD is seeking to intensify cooperation with the legal profession. A lecture was given for the members of the Dutch Association of Young Criminal Lawyers (NVJSA). Also, in consultation with the NVJSA, a working group was put together which has drawn up a questionnaire aimed at finding out what experiences lawyers have had with the use and availability of experts. This will be distributed in 2022.
The NRGD has regular administrative consultations with the Forensic Expertise Network of the judiciary. Through knowledge sharing, the judiciary is involved in the NRGD's various meetings and projects.
There are indications from various sides that experts sometimes do not feel safe to report on a basis that is traceable to an individual person, particularly with regard to certain criminal proceedings involving serious crime. This also impacts all parties involved in the chain and requires coordination. The Ministry has been asked to examine this in a broader context, as part of which the NRGD will actively engage in the debate on the public accessibility of the NRGD register. The NRGD recognises the importance of this issue for individual employees, while also emphasising the need to consider the importance of a public register. The register states only minimal personal data, which are limited to the expert's name and the organisation for which the expert works. Further anonymisation would eliminate the public search function.
The Bureau was actively involved in 2021 in a part of the modernisation of the Code of Criminal Procedure, in particular the regulation on experts and the quality assurance of expertise at the police.
This year's annual report features something that is normally not included in the NRGD annual report; the organisation of a large-scale event with various speakers in Tivoli Vredenburg in Utrecht, in the Netherlands. The NRGD employees successfully undertook to organise an excellent symposium to mark the first ten years of our existence. Partly owing to the COVID-19 pandemic, the symposium was held a year later than originally intended. Besides booking speakers, negotiating with various locations and taking decisions on matters such as 1.5 metres social distancing, seating, refreshments and music, a ’10 year NRGD’ book was published: a collection of interviews with professionals in the field. The year 2021 was therefore a year for looking ahead, but also for considering everything that has been achieved.
Managing and processing applications
The case system for processing applications was further integrated end-to- end in 2021. The integration with the new meeting tool for sharing documents is working as intended and not only improves efficiency but also complies even more closely with security and privacy requirements.
The pilot project for submitting fully digital applications was started in 2021. Digital applications will be possible in the first half of 2022.
The Certificate of Conduct (VOG) can be applied for digitally since 2021, as it became possible for the NRGD (which is not a legal entity) to obtain registration at the Chamber of Commerce. With this Chamber of Commerce number, the NRGD was able to apply for eHerkenning and thus for connection to public facilities. Overall, this creates an integrated system that simplifies, accelerates and safeguards our work, and especially that for the applicant.
The NRGD is required to have its information management in order in accordance with legal standards. In achieving this, the NRGD is faced with an increasing number of regulations, including the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the Government Information (Public Access) Act (Wet openbaarheid van bestuur, Wob; to be replaced in 2022 with the Open Government Act (Wet open overheid, Woo)), the Digital Government Act (Wet digitale overheid, Wdo), the Digital Accessibility Act (Wet digitale toegankelijkheid), the Dutch Public Records Act (Archiefwet) and the Government Information Security Baseline (Baseline informatiebeveiliging Overheid, BIO).
To ensure effective implementation, it is important for the implementation to be included in new legislation by means of implementation tests. A positive example is provided by the Open Government Act (Woo), which was amended on the advice of several organisations, including the NRGD. Both the DPO and the PO and the CISO rendered account to the Board in 2021 by means of an annual report.
Everyone has a right of access to the personal data on them that are processed by the NRGD. The NRGD received its first access request in 2021. However, it was found that this was not intended for the NRGD itself but for the registered court expert who had prepared a pro Justitia report on the person seeking to exercise the right of access. The NRGD Bureau therefore forwarded the request.
The website was visited 24,000 times in 2021, a marked increase from 19,000 visits in 2020. Besides the register, the interviews and the Ad Hoc tools were also viewed frequently. In accordance with the statutory requirement, the NRGD website has been made accessible for people with a visual disability. The NRGD is engaged in preparations to move to the government-wide web platform PRO. The register module will also need to be adapted to that end.
Cost centres/actual x €1,000
Bureau cost centre
Other office expenses
Total for Bureau
Committees cost centre
Total for Committees
Projects cost centre
Total for projects
Staff: Temporary staff were hired as several employees took maternity leave.
Travel expenses: Travel and accommodation expenses were again lower in 2021.
ICT: ICT costs increased sharply as applications were disconnected or discontinued later than expected. There was also a substantial cost increase. These impacts totalled around 40,000. The other expenses include non-recurring expenses such as expenses for the development of a new matching and planning tool.
Symposium: In 2021, the NRGD held a symposium to mark its tenth anniversary.
Translation expenses: Translation expenses represent a substantial cost. Their amount fluctuates with the expected number of ‘international’ assessments, but they will continue to rise in the absence of any change in policy, driven by organic growth. The policy on recognition that has been adopted may in the longer term mean that assessments of the NFI will no longer be performed by the NRGD and accordingly costs for translations could decrease.