NRGD Annual Report 2022
This year, the Netherlands Register of Court Experts (NRGD) once again contributed towards safeguarding, and where necessary, improving the quality of experts in the Dutch criminal justice system. There is still much to be done, and that is in the interest of all participants in proceedings. Developments took place in various areas.
This year, the Netherlands Register of Court Experts (NRGD) once again contributed towards safeguarding, and where necessary, improving the quality of experts in the Dutch criminal justice system. There is still much to be done, and that is in the interest of all participants in proceedings. Developments took place in various areas. A new field of expertise has been opened: ‘Gunshot Residue’, bringing the number of areas of expertise to twelve. The NRGD also shared its input in various committees regarding the field of forensic science, the current systems in place for safeguarding forensic quality and optimising collaboration. Various meetings were organised in order to exchange knowledge with each other. In the meantime, the assessment of experts continued as usual, of course, with 191 assessments being conducted in 2022.
2022 was all about international cooperation. The NRGD gave four presentations at the forensic conference EAFS in Stockholm.
As has been the case since our establishment, our core values were the central focus: conscientious, transparent, cooperative and, above all, independent. By focusing on the organisation’s firm foundation, it was possible to demonstrate flexibility without compromising any of the core values. As a result, multiple organisational projects are currently underway: an evaluation of the organisational structure (Van de Bunt Adviseurs), an evaluation of the assessment procedure (CITO) and an evaluation of the communication strategy (Gojo communicatie).
The partnerships that have developed with our chain and consultation partners were further solidified in 2022 as a result of the direct and pleasant interaction between investigators, policymakers and directors. These relationships of trust help to ensure a positive view of the future, with long-lasting partnerships. These are badly needed, because as everyone involved in the field of forensic science knows, there is still a world to be won.
One area of constant concern, in our view, is that interpretative reporting must be carried out by objectively qualified experts. In the NRGD’s opinion, a distinction must be made between factual investigation and interpretative investigation. In the interest of the administration of justice, as far as interpretative investigation is concerned, a registration in, or certification by, the NRGD ought to be a requirement, regardless of who is conducting this type of investigation. This should in any case apply to all areas of expertise opened up by the NRGD.
Chairman, Board of Court Experts of the NRGD
Results and new developments in 2022
- Gunshot Residue field of expertise (GSR). The GSR field of expertise was opened in October 2022. The standardisation of this area means that from now on the entire range of NRGD-registered experts working on criminal cases involving firearms, will be able to be appointed directly by the Public Prosecution Service (OM).
- Forensic Medical Examination field of expertise (FMO): The FMO field of expertise was opened up for registration applications on 1 December 2021. Within the Forensic Medical Examination field of expertise, the first experts and assessors were appointed in 2022, resulting in 10 registrations.
- Forensic Financial Investigation field of expertise (FFO): Together with the Standard-setting Advisory Committee, the NRGD made great progress in 2022 in drafting an assessment framework for this area.
- Forensic Psychiatry, Psychology and Child and Youth Care Sciences field of expertise (FPPO): An afternoon knowledge session on the subject of reporting for the defence was held in 2022. There is clearly a positive development underway when it comes to the willingness on the part of experts to report for the defence.
- Handwriting field of expertise: A small, but still frequently requested area. In 2022, international contacts were established and new assessors registered. The expansion to include civil and administrative law may also generate new growth in the number of experts.
- Digital Forensics field of expertise (DFO): The assessment framework for the Digital Forensics field of expertise has been extensively evaluated in collaboration with various experts in the field and during a well-attended brainstorming session at an international conference.
- The NRGD made considerable progress in 2022 towards its goal of achieving the recognition of the assessment and programmes/training courses of the Netherlands Forensic Institute (NFI) in the near future.
- In the first half of 2022, the Board decided that the Forensic Radiology field was to be the next new area to be standardised.
- The Ad Hoc instruments for experts who have rarely, if ever, drawn up reports in criminal cases, are frequently consulted via the NRGD website. Seven requests for report feedback were satisfactorily processed.
- ICT: following a successful pilot project, the application procedure has been fully digitalised. Moreover, the website has been revamped.
Figures & processing time
The NRGD received around 2,700 forensic expert registration/re-registration applications between 2010 and 2022. The NRGD processed 191 applications across 10 fields/sub-fields of expertise in 2022. Across the fields of expertise, 15 applications were rejected in 2022.
Most of the applications were for registration/re-registration in the Forensic Psychiatry, Psychology and Child and Youth Care Sciences field of expertise (FPPO).
A total of 146 applications were submitted for that field of expertise, 6 of which were rejected due to the fact that the experts in question did not fulfil the quality requirements prescribed by law. 7 of the re-registration applications for FFPO resulted in a conditional registration on substantive grounds (customised approach).
In 2022, the average processing time for an application was 2.5 months.
Objection, appeal, complaints and reports
In 2022, the NRGD received four notices of objection, three of which have been processed and one of which was still being dealt with as of 31 December 2022. The objections related to rejections of applications for re-registration in various fields of expertise.
In two of the three cases handled, the Advisory Committee for Objections advised the Board to uphold the contested decision. In the case of the objection concerning a rejection that followed an unconditional registration, the Advisory Committee for Objections advised the Board to conditionally re-register the expert concerned once again. The Board has adopted the advice of the Advisory Committee for Objections in each case.
In 2022, the NRGD received two complaints. One of them is still being dealt with and the other was handled and declared unfounded in keeping with the Reports guidelines.
Fields of expertise
Since its establishment in 2010, the NRGD has standardis the following 12 fields of expertise, encompassing 20 sub-fields of expertise in consultation with practitioners:
- Forensic Psychiatry, Psychology and Child and Youth Care Sciences, with four sub-fields
- DNA Analysis and Interpretation, with three sub-fields
- Handwriting Analysis
- Drugs with two sub-areas
- Toxicological Analysis
- Forensic Weapon and Ammunition Examination
- Assessment against the Weapons and Ammunition Act
- Forensic Pathology
- Digital Forensics, with six sub-fields
- Legal Psychology, with three sub-fields
- Forensic Medical Examination, with two sub-fields
- Gunshot Residue
Continuing development of standardisation and assessment
First experts registered in Forensic Medical Examination (FMO)
As of September 2022, the first forensic physicians were registered as experts for the area of expertise FMO. By adding forensic physicians to the NRGD, the number of forensic medical experts (which until that time consisted only of forensic pathologists) was increased.
Compared to other countries, the field of forensic medicine in the Netherlands is unique, in the sense that forensic physicians perform examinations of both living persons and the deceased. That makes it a complex field because it consists of post-mortem examination, examination of injuries, examinations for evidence of sexual activity, collection of tissues and care of detainees. The FMO field of expertise, as standardised by the NRGD, is in the first instance limited to examination of injuries and examination for evidence of sexual activity by means of forensic interpretation and reporting of medical findings, of both living persons and the deceased and of both minors and adults.
Opening of the Gunshot Residue Examination field of expertise
In recent years, the NRGD has worked in close consultation with the professional field on the standardisation of the Gunshot Residue Examination field of expertise. The Board of Court Experts has established the assessment framework for this new field of expertise. Since 17 October 2022, the Gunshot Residue Examination field of expertise has been open for registration applications.
The Gunshot Residue Examination field of expertise fits in with the Forensic Pathology and Forensic Weapon and Ammunition Examination fields of expertise. The standardisation of Gunshot Residue Examination means that the entire spectrum of NRGD-registered experts who work on criminal cases involving firearms, can be appointed directly by the rosecution. There are two sub-fields within the Gunshot Residue Examination field of expertise: Instrumental Analysis and Interpretation on the one hand and Shooting Distance and Directions on the other. Applications can be submitted for one or both fields.
DNA Source Level divided into two sub-fields
At the end of 2021, the Board of Court Experts decided to divide up the sub-fields DNA Source Level into two separate sub-fields, i.e., DNA Source Level and DNA Source Level Extended. As a result of this expansion, experts can register for the following four sub-fields of Human DNA Analysis and Interpretation:
- 001.1 DNA Source Level
- 001.2 DNA Source Level Extended
- 001.3 DNA Kinship Analysis
- 001.4 DNA Activity Level
In September 2020, the sub-field DNA Source Level was changed to give more DNA experts the opportunity to register. The NRGD previously had just one DNA Source Level field with four optional tasks:
001.1 Human DNA Analysis and Interpretation – Source Level
- Y-chromosomal DNA analysis
- Mitochondrial DNA analysis
- Examination strategy
- Cell typing
This has now been changed into two different sub-fields:
- 001.1 Human DNA Analysis and Interpretation – Source Level
- 001.2 Human DNA Analysis and Interpretation – Source Level Extended
The area 001.1 DNA Source Level retains all basic requirements and competencies, but the optional extended tasks will no longer form part of them. The area 001.2 DNA Source Level Extended will include all basic requirements and competencies including the following three tasks: cell typing, setting up and carrying out examination strategy and Y-chromosomal analysis. The task mitochondrial DNA analysis will not form part of DNA Source Level Extended, in part due to the fact that this task is already part of DNA Kinship Analysis.
Forensic Financial Investigation
Together with parties in the field, the NRGD got started in 2022 on the preparations for the standardisation of the Forensic Financial Investigation field of expertise. For this field of expertise, the NRGD has so far focused on accountants, because their activities within this field are well-defined.
In future, the NRGD will possibly be open to enabling additional professions to register within this field of expertise, if show they are capable of meeting the same standards. Several meetings of the Standardisation and Advisory Committee were held in 2022, in order to prepare the appropriate frameworks and standards. The NRGD began talks with possible stakeholders, in order to inform them about the current process and state of affairs.
Ad Hoc expertise
In 2020, five instruments were launched for Ad Hoc experts: experts who rarely, if ever, draw up reports for criminal cases. The tools were developed to guarantee and help improve the quality of their reporting. The Ad Hoc tools are frequently consulted on the NRGD website and the users have reacted very positively to them. Seven applications for feedback on reports have been handled over the last year. Whether or not the instruments could also be made available for experts in civil and administrative law is being explored.
The NRGD is looking at the possibilities for step-by-step expansion of the register to include more international experts. Carried out with the help of members of the legal profession, this research into the use and availability of counter-experts fits in well with an ongoing programme.
The policy of the NRGD has the option that if an organisation demonstrably has a sound degree programme/training course and examination, the NRGD will look at whether recognition is possible for this degree programme/training course and examination. This recognition is not granted easily, however. In addition to the programme/training being reviewed on a regular basis (initially, after two years and every five years thereafter) by an independent assessment panel, one of the members of the examination board which conducts the examination also acts as external examiner from the NRGD. On behalf of the NRGD, the external examiner ensures that the candidate meets the quality requirements set by the NRGD, has an independent position as far as the interests of the organisation are concerned and has the power of veto. That creates a hybrid overall process: hands-off where possible, individual assessment where required.
In the context of this recognition policy, the NRGD made significant progress in 2022 with the NFI. The NFI has an extensive quality assurance system that consists of an initial training programme and a policy aimed at ensuring that knowledge and skills are maintained at the required level, even after the programme has been completed. The talks with the NFI began in 2021 and had reached an advanced stage by 2022. By now, there is a draft recognition agreement giving expression to the agreements. In 2023, an independent assessment panel is expected to review the NFI’s assessment procedures and programme.
Forensic Radiology is more and more part of forensic post-mortem examination that may be performed if the circumstances surrounding a death are suspicious. The examination is carried out in order to determine whether further investigation into the cause of death is needed, or at the request of the pathologist, in addition to toxicological analysis, as part of the forensic post-mortem. The NRGD has now standardised the Forensic Pathology and Toxicology fields of expertise. Partly in connection with the results of the survey conducted in 2022 on new areas, the NRGD has initiated talks with various experts and parties involved in this field in order to start standardisation of Forensic Radiology.
Bloodstain Pattern Analysis (BPA)
Several years ago, the Board of Court Experts decided to standardise Bloodstain Pattern Analysis (hereinafter: BPA) and add it to the register. This was based on the results of the recently conducted New Areas Survey. At that time, the Board was of the opinion that the area of expertise was not yet ready for standardisation due to the fact that the educational programmes on offer were too diverse. In 2021, the NRGD conducted a study in order to re-analyse this field of expertise in the Netherlands. Based on this study, the Board decided in April 2022 to begin standardising this area of expertise.
The first step in the standardisation process therefore involved discussing where to draw the line between documentation, classification and scenario-evaluating investigation and reporting within the BPA field of expertise. In that context, an expert meeting was held on 2 September 2022 in which the police, the prosecution, judiciary (ZM), NFI and private parties were invited to share their vision on these subjects. In this concept-forming phase, the past, present and future of BPA as an area of expertise were discussed under the supervision of the NRGD. The results of this meeting will now form the basis on which the Standardisation Advisory Committee, which is currently being assembled, will be able to get to work on the area’s actual standardisation.
A single register of experts for the entire judicial system
The judicial system has repeatedly indicated that, as in criminal law, there is also a need in civil and administrative law for suitable and competent experts. Given that the NRGD currently only has a statutory basis for criminal law under the Dutch Criminal Code, a legislative amendment would be needed in order to do this. In anticipation of that legislative amendment, a covenant was concluded in 2020 with the Dutch Association for Medical Specialist Reporting (NVMSR), in consultation with the Ministry. The covenant is ultimately aimed at the recognition of the NVMSR training for medical specialists who act in administrative and civil proceedings.
Progress on the path towards a statutory expansion continued in 2021 and 2022 and in 2023 is expected to result in the judiciary making an actual request to the Directorate for Legislation of the Ministry of Justice and Security.
Status of the implementation
In 2022, another miscarriage of justice came to light in which investigations carried out by experts played a crucial role. For the NRGD, this underscores the importance of ensuring good quality assurance of all experts who work in the forensic investigation chain.
Good quality assurance is also dependent upon having good legal safeguards. In 2022, the NRGD contributed to the discussion surrounding the modernisation of the Code of Criminal Procedure as far as the regulation on experts is concerned. This has continued into 2023. The regulation on experts in the Code of Criminal Procedures forms the legal basis for the Register of Court Experts in Criminal Cases Decree and thus the foundation for the quality assurance of experts in the criminal justice system.
If the NRGD is to continue safeguarding the quality of experts, it is important that the legal framework continues to enable it to do so. In that context, the NRGD considers it important for there to be legal assurance that interpretative investigation will always be carried out by objectively qualified experts. To that end, it is essential to make a distinction between factual investigation/reporting and interpretative investigation. In the interest of the administration of justice, as far as interpretative investigation is concerned, registration in, or as the case may be, certification by the NRGD ought to be a requirement. This ought to apply in any case to all fields of expertise opened by the NRGD.
The NRGD hopes to call attention to the safeguarding of the quality of experts. Active involvement in legislation and of policymakers and support in the aforementioned legislative process surrounding the regulation on experts will be essential in this context.
Modernisation of the Dutch Code of Criminal Procedure
In 2014, the process of modernising the Code of Criminal Procedure got started. The current version dates back to 1926 and is outdated. The sections of the current Code of Criminal Procedure were reviewed and it was considered whether amendments were needed and, if so, which ones.
In 2022, the NRGD contributed to the discussion surrounding the modernisation of the Code of Criminal Procedure as far as the regulation on experts is concerned. In that context, the NRGD takes part in the expert group which is examining how the current legislation regarding experts can be improved upon.
ISO is a global standardisation organisation in which countries voluntarily collaborate to draw up 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. Work is currently underway 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.
The draft standards, for example, state that reports containing an Interpretation/opinion must meet more extensive requirements than those that only contain factual data/observations. Staff must be adequately trained and have passed examinations for the position in which they serve. Although the standards are still in draft form, these are expected to be definitively adopted in two years’ time.
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 2009. In keeping with the discussions at the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), the NRGD advocates for a clear distinction to be made between factual investigation and investigation which is strongly interpretative in nature.
ZM, OM, legal profession
The NRGD has regular administrative consultations with the Forensic Expertise Association of judges (ZM). Through knowledge sharing, ZM is involved in the NRGD’s various meetings and projects. In 2022, the NRGD also gave a presentation at the Court of Zwolle, to explain its working methods. Many judges attended this event.
The prosecution (OM) is consulted regularly, including at official level. Public prosecutors from the OM are requested to participate in various knowledge days, expert meetings and legal gatherings.
The NRGD is seeking to intensify cooperation with the legal profession. In cooperation with Maastricht University, a survey has been drawn up which will be distributed among criminal lawyers in 2023. This survey inquires about their experiences as criminal lawyers with the use of experts. The NRGD wants to gain insight into which areas might have issues.
In 2022, the NRGD took part in the conference of the European Association of Forensic Science (EAFS) in Stockholm. EAFS is the largest European forensic conference. The programme included themes such as: digital transformation of the forensic process, forensic data science, forensic human factors and forensic social responsibility. The NRGD submitted three abstracts to have a discussion about aspects of forensic quality of current interest. All abstracts were accepted for a presentation:
Presentation 1: Looking back and forward
In this presentation, the NRGD explained how it has developed over the last 10 years and talked about its plans and ambitions for the near future during the presentation ‘The 10- year Odyssey of the NRGD’.
Presentation 2: DNA Activity Level
The NRGD was also given the stage to talk about the proverbial roller coaster that was the standardisation and assessment process for the DNA Activity Level field of expertise, but which did, however, result in the first internationally recognised NRGD experts in this area.
Presentation 3: Ad Hoc expertise project
Finally, the NRGD spoke about the Ad Hoc expertise project, as a result of which the quality of reporting by experts who rarely, if ever, draw up reports for criminal law cases is better safeguarded and has been improved upon.
The area Digital Forensics has been open for registration since 2016. At that time, the NRGD opted to divide up the field of expertise into six sub-fields. The field continues to undergo rapid development and after more than five years, the area and the existing assessment framework were evaluated. In order to determine whether the current division was still sufficiently up to date, a brainstorming session was held with over thirty international experts and involved parties during the EAFS conference in Stockholm. One of the subjects discussed during the session was the question of what makes an expert expert and how, if it were left up to the attendees, would they arrange the sub-fields. With over 40 visitors from 10 different countries, the input was quite diverse. Based on this input, the NRGD is looking at whether the assessment framework needs changing.
Management and processing
The NRGD launched its new website in 2022. The website has been re-designed and the search function improved. The application procedure has also been changed. It is now possible to submit an application for registration/re-registration online. The digital application form is hosted via burgerberichten.nl. This digital environment is protected and the details which are filled in and the documents uploaded can only be accessed by the applicant themselves and the NRGD.
Not only the application has thus been digitalised, but it is also possible to digitally request a Dutch Certificate of Good Conduct (VOG). Following receipt of a digital application, the applicant receives an email from Justis-organisation containing a link with which a request for a VOG can be submitted electronically. The applicant subsequently receives the VOG by post. It is unfortunately still necessary to send it by post to the NRGD.
The NRGD is required to have its information management in order in accordance with legal standards. For that purpose, the NRGD must take an increasing number of regulations into account, including the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the Government Information (Public Access) Act (Wob, replaced by the Open Government Act, Woo in 2022), the Digital Government Act (Wdo), the Digital Accessibility Act, the Public Records Act and the Government Information Security Baseline (BIO).
In order to implement this effectively, it is essential in the case of new legislation that the implementation is taken into account through the use of implementation tests. One positive example was the Woo, which was amended on the advice of several organisations including het NRGD. The external Data Protection Officer (DPO) reported to the Board in an annual report on the state of affairs in relation to the GDPR. Her report has been published.
The website was visited 20,348 times in 2022. In addition to the register, the FPPO pages were visited particularly often. Interest in the Ad Hoc pages is also considerable. The Ad Hoc tools help experts who do not often work in the judicial system with writing a properly substantiated expert report.
In 2022, the NRGD switched to the nationwide governmental web platform PRO. The register module has been adjusted for this purpose. In accordance with statutory requirements, the NRGD website has been made accessible to people with disabilities and it is expected that an A status will be obtained for this in late 2023. In a newsletter which is published periodically, the NRGD informs experts about changes in the registration/re- registration procedures and developments in the fields of expertise and the field of forensics in general, among other things. The NRGD also draws the attention of its followers on LinkedIn to forensic publications in the media, innovations, interviews, events and background stories.
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
* This amount was increased to 2170 in the course of 2022 in connection with wage and price increases and subversion funds in the amount of 125,000. The subversion funds in the amount of 125,000 have not been used due to uncertainty regarding permission for their spending.
* * These are expenditures of the NRGD
- The utilisation is 98%
- Bureau cost centre: Wage and price increases
- Projects: Datamining project and advice from Van de Bunt
- Translation expenses: Lower translation expenses due to delay in GSR field of expertise
- Conferences/symposiums: Conference fees for EAFS