The British Association in Forensic Medicine (BAFM) is the professional association for forensic pathologists in the United Kingdom and Ireland.
Its aims and purposes are:
(i) To advance the study and practice of forensic pathology through academic meetings, collaborative
research and other activities
(ii) To act as an advisory and negotiating body as required
The Association was founded in 1950, originally as the British Association of Forensic Pathologists, changing to its current title in 1956. Its membership over the following 70 years is a roll-call of the great and the good of the profession, both at home and abroad. Currently there are around 140 members, ranging from those now retired from active practice to those at an early stage in their medical career who are perhaps contemplating a future in forensic pathology. The membership importantly includes colleagues from the rest of Europe and from further afield, plus occasional practitioners from related specialities.
The governing body of the Association is the Council which comprises all those in England and Wales with the status of 'Home Office Pathologist' and their equivalents in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Ireland. It is presided over by the President, who holds the office for two years, assisted by the Honorary Secretary and the Honorary Treasurer. The current office bearers are:
President: Dr Ben Swift
Hon Secretary: Dr Robert Ainsworth
Hon Treasurer: Dr Jennifer Bolton
The work of Council is assisted by a Professional Advisory Committee (PAC) made up of representatives from throughout the UK.
The BAFM holds two scientific meetings a year, normally over weekends in June and November. The meetings take place in different locations throughout the UK and occasionally abroad, and generally comprise presentations from invited speakers, perhaps on a theme, plus contributions from members. Generally an additional seminar is held prior to the main meeting, intended specifically for training and update and overseen by the Update Meeting Organiser (Dr Sacha Kolar).
The BAFM is represented on a number of national committees relevant to the practice of forensic pathology, and is consulted by others. It is active in establishing national standards for performance and in developing the means by which members can comply with the revalidation process required of all medical practitioners.
Membership of the Association is open to any registered medical or dental practitioner with a genuine interest in forensic medicine or pathology, and to any other person with a substantial involvement in medico-legal work whose qualifications are considered acceptable. For details please go to Membership Information.
About Forensic Pathology
Forensic pathology is that branch of medicine which provides the investigation and interpretation of disease and injury for courts of law — the use of primarily pathological knowledge in criminal investigations and other enquiries, particularly in establishing the cause of injuries or death.
In the UK, forensic pathologists must be fully registered and licensed medical practitioners, and will have received prior training in histopathology (clinical pathology) to at least the level of Part 1 FRCPath (Histopathology).
In practice, the work of a forensic pathologist principally involves performing post mortem examinations on people who have died in a variety of circumstances, in order to determine or confirm the cause of death and to answer any other questions arising. They do so at the request of the legal authorities to whom they will present their findings, and they may subsequently be required to testify in the courts of law. In being independent practitioners they are as equally available to assist the 'defence' as the 'prosecution' in criminal cases.
Forensic pathologists do not deal only with suspicious deaths, and much of their work may be with other types of cases, such as people dying of natural causes, from accidental or self-inflicted trauma, from intoxication by alcohol or drugs, or perhaps where there are concerns over medical treatment. The speciality therefore touches on all branches of medicine, both adult and paediatric (children). Post mortem examinations do not always give an immediate answer and it is often necessary to carry out further enquiries or investigations, the latter including examining tissues under the microscope (histology) or referring samples for alcohol and drug analysis (toxicology).
In addition to post mortem work, forensic pathologists will be involved in teaching and training, and may also be active in research. There is, for instance, much interest at the moment on the use of imaging techniques as an adjunct to, or even replacement of, autopsies.
The employment status of forensic pathologists varies throughout the United Kingdom. Some are based in Universities (particularly the case in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales), a few are based in hospital pathology departments, and others are within independent groupings spread geographically throughout the country (the situation which predominates in England). Whatever their status, they are required to observe the same standards of performance and the need for continuing professional development.
What's in a name?
While BAFM uses 'Forensic Medicine' in its title its members are principally practitioners of forensic pathology. The title is historical, from the days when the same individual, in addition to post mortem work, would carry out clinical examinations, for example on victims of alleged physical or sexual assault, and may have been involved in other areas as well, for example, toxicology, blood stains etc.
Nowadays forensic pathologists in the UK largely confine themselves to post mortem examinations, the clinical side being the province of forensic physicians (forensic medical examiners / police surgeons), albeit pathologists still do have an important role in the interpretation of injuries in the living.
More information on clinical forensic medicine can be obtained from the website of the Faculty of Forensic and Legal Medicine (www.fflm.ac.uk).
Forensic pathologists are often mistakenly referred to as 'forensic scientists'. While the term is perhaps true in the strict definition of forensic science as being any scientific discipline assisting the legal process, in practice a forensic scientist is someone trained in a scientific (as opposed to a medical) discipline, such as biology or chemistry. They are the ones therefore dealing with DNA typing, blood pattern analysis, the examination of hairs, fibres and other materials, matching of foot and other prints, investigation of fires, analysis of drug seizures etc.
The professional body for forensic scientists in the UK is The Chartered Society of Forensic Sciences (formerly the Forensic Science Society) (www.charteredsocietyofforensicsciences.org).
Other now well established forensic specialities are:
Forensic Toxicology - the analysis of drugs and other substances in body fluids, both in life and after death
Forensic Anthropology - the examination of the skeleton in assisting identification and the detection of injuries
Forensic Odontology - the examination of teeth for identification purposes, and the interpretation of bite marks
Forensic Entomology - the use of insects such as flies and 'maggots' to determine time of death
Please use the Links page for further information about these and other disciplines.