Ethics is simple the use of a system that governs the moral judgment within a professional body. They affect the how people come to decisions and lead their professional lives. Ethics is concerned with how individuals use good practice when given responsibilities in the work place. It is the moral guidelines in which a professional person would follow when doing their job to the best standard.
Many ethical guidelines of the past have become laws and regulations of today. Ethics is the moral principles many organisations build their core belief of what is right and what is wrong. In Forensics investigation the ethics within a certain profession determines how an investigator would conduct themselves and gives a guide on how best to reflect the honestly of your work.
The professional practice of a fire investigator requires an understanding of the stakeholders in the practice and the investigator's responsibility to those stakeholders. These responsibilities are best discharged by producing, maintaining, and following a written program committed to paper in a quality assurance manual. The investigator's practice should allow him to earn a living but it should also serve the public. An investigator's business practices should be structured to be efficient, ethical, transparent, and understandable(2006b)
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The word ethics is apparent when you read about many Forensic professions. So the author has written this essay in order to give a detailed view as to what Ethical issues are relevant in the profession of Fire Investigation. A Fire investigator has many duties when investigating a fire. Obviously, investigating fires is a main task, but a fire investigator can work in research roles as well. A Fire investigator could work in the private or public sector but both specific jurisdictions are governed by a code of ethics.
A code of ethics (sometimes known as a code of conduct) is often a formal statement of the organisation's values on certain ethical and social issues(2008a)
These codes of ethics are written up by the governing body of Fire investigators, The International Association of Arson Investigators (IAAI). All Investigators have an obligation to be familiar with the current standards of care. The International Association of Arson Investigators Code of Ethics are written like so;
I will conduct both my personal and official life so as to inspire the confidence of the public.
I will not use my profession and my position of trust for personal advantage or profit.
I will regard my fellow investigators with the same standards as a hold for myself.
I will never betray a confidence nor otherwise jeopardise their investigation.
I will regard it my duty to know my work thoroughly. It is my further duty to avail myself of every opportunity to learn more about my profession.
I will avoid alliances with those whose goals are inconsistent with an honest and unbiased investigation.
I will make no claim to professional qualifications which I do not possess.
I will share all publicity equally with my fellow investigators, whether such publicity is favourable or unfavourable.
I will be loyal to my superiors, to my subordinates, and to the organization I represent.
I will bear in mind always that I am a truth-seeker not a case maker; that it is more important to protect the innocent than to convict the guilty.(Investigators, 2010a)
Many countries in the world have their own chapter of the Association e.g. International Association of Arson Investigators (IAAI) UK Chapter. These chapters enforce a set of general principles about the organisation's beliefs on such matters as quality of work and employee's duty to care.
The main objectives of the IAAI-UK are:
The preservation of life and property and prevention of crime for the public benefit, in particular by:
Developing and maintaining good practice in the investigation of fire and arson by ensuring the highest professional standards of competence
Developing technical knowledge in fire and arson investigation techniques and procedures and making that knowledge available to professionals, service providers and the public
When reading through both codes, you begin to realise the profession sees ethics as being a major part of how an Investigator conducts their work. The effectiveness of the code of ethics depends on the extent to which the chapters support them. But it does seem that to work within this profession the individual themselves has the responsibility to be a honourable professional dealing with colleagues and as an expert to be academically astute when working within all relevant areas. At all times must speak complete truth with no room for bias agendas. So the authors aim now is to develop an understanding of which areas within Fire Investigation are governed the most by the ethical code.
Ethics in the Practice of scene Investigating
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A fire investigator's job begins after a fire is put out. At the fire scene the investigators sole mission is to determine the cause of the fire. They must locate the origin of a fire and determine whether the fire was accidental or intentional. When you read through the codes you see that an Investigator must maintain good practice in the investigation of fire and arson. To investigate in an ethical process a Fire investigator will use a logical line of inquiry that holds the answers of determining the true cause. This is accomplished by reporting to a fire scene, investigation of the fire and how it moved, interview witnesses, and takes into account the circumstances surrounding the incident. The efficient method that is recommended by most fire investigation books is the scientific method.
The scientific method is the standard form of inquiry that follows the process of scientific and engineering approaches to fire investigation. NFPA 921 Guide for Fire and Explosion Investigations lists some steps of the scientific method as follows, collect the data, analysis the data, develop and test a hypothesis, Reach the final hypothesis.(2008b)
A Fire investigator should generally follow the same steps when at a fire scene, so that all probable cause of fire has been investigated, observed and eliminated, only to end up with a few hypotheses remaining. When an Investigator is collecting data they must follow strict ethical guidelines, they must know how to protect sensitive crime scene information when dealing with arson. The Fire Investigator must pay close attention to detail when they are collecting data, fulfilling their responsibilities without causing contamination to the fire scene, which could jeopardise the investigation for them and their colleagues. An Investigator has a moral duty to their client to take the time to work at the scene until sufficient evidence and data has been collected to begin analysis. When dealing with deaths from fires the client will seek positive answers to the origin and cause of a fire. A combination of interviews and the substantial evidence used to establish if the fire is the result of arson or not. The fire investigator must act promptly in taking interviews with witnesses as the fire may ruin much of the evidence. Failure to be efficient and being competent can be the reason of incorrect hypothesis. This is why a Fire investigator must always work at their technique by learning all the time and improving their skills as a professional.
Keeping up is not an option - it is an obligation.
The skills Learned when first training as a fire investigator must be kept sharp and current(2006b)
The fire investigator must not let assumptions get in the way of their work at an early stage. If they have a theory then it should be analysed to determine the truth. Truth is the moral judgement that anyone working in forensics is seeking. The discovery of truth should always be the main motivation and fire scenes are presumed innocent until proven guilty. Mishandled investigations lead to certain kinds of errors which can continuously occur and the cost of those errors can be great. Technical and legal errors can mean miscarriages of justice. The actions of fire investigators who do not follow the ethical codes can result in wrongful prosecutions or wrongful denials of insurance claims. When the fire investigation moves to the laboratory all the data collected from a scene must be analysed through scientific methods and experiments so errors can be eliminated.
The Ethics in being an Expert Witness
As expert witnesses, we are guests in the courtroom and are present solely for the purpose of helping a judge or a jury to understand the facts and evidence(2006b)
The purpose of being an expert witness is to present the truth to the court which is not biased but the complete unbiased truth. To do this, the expert must be loyal to the barristers to whom they report their findings too. The Fire investigator must make all reports based on truth and fact and express only honest opinions. The report should be submitted in a sensible time frame. The reports should be clear and written so the data is easily translated or shown to the jury. When testifying it is important not only to tell the truth but also to leave the correct impression. It is the job of the expert witness to help the judge and jurors understand the evidence. Involvement in the court system as an expert witness is a challenging responsibility that must be approached with a respect for and knowledge of the way the legal system functions. While following the code of ethics, the expert should study the letter of the law. When standing as an expert the fire investigator must be able to show great confidence and understanding of their dealings with colleagues. As an expert they have be mentally astute, educated and honest. At all times as an expert, the investigator must speak the complete truth. Half-truths are not acceptable. The Fire Investigator cannot discuss the case in which they are involved with anyone other than the legal representatives and other appointed experts. No document should be shown to anyone outside the intimate circle. At times, cases are interesting and however the temptation to make remarks about a case to friends should be controlled. If contact with the expert is made by anyone other than the barrister the expert must report this contact immediately and present the matter to the barrister and other legal representatives. This issue is called disclosure; investigators must be fair and must work together with the legal representatives to guarantee that disclosure obligations are reached.
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One competent member of a professional organisation can cast doubts upon the ethics of the entire organisation so the investigator must be professional and not abuse their position of trust for personal advantage or profit. They have a duty of care to summit their findings as fact. For a Investigator to be retained as an expert they must avoid giving false information, fabricating data from a nonexistent or an incomplete experiment and reaching a conclusion before all research is completed. An expert who disregards the code of ethics of a scientific or engineering organisation can cause that organisation to lose status and credibility in the eyes of the public.
An expert must exhibit ethical behaviour that is beyond reproach and should never give cause for disbelief in the expert's ethical considerations(2008a)
The Investigator should remind the legal representatives of the codes of ethics when they are called as an expert for a case. This is to determine if any conflict arises between the code of ethics and the law. The Investigator must discuss the issue with the legal representatives. It is far better to have any potential conflicts resolved at this point than have to answer questions related to the issues under cross-examination at the trial.
When working as a Fire Investigator the ethical procedures that have to be adhered too are put in place to prevent any professional investigator from making false judgements at critical times within an investigation. As Lentini(2006a) states Investigative professionals provide services within the legal system and are called upon to give evidence to cause of which they have expertise or to supply a professional view on questions or factors affecting the outcome of a case. The evidence of an investigator should be restricted to the precise fields of expertise of that person as established by education and experience in the field. The extent of the ability of the investigator which is needed to give evidence is determined by the legal system in which the professional is called up as an expert witness. There must be some ethical practice when dealing with people who could easily become victimised by the wrong decisions presented in a case by an investigator who has failed to take every possibility into account. Ethical behaviour leads people to the truth and goes beyond knowing what is right and what is wrong. It is simply doing what is right. When an investigator is called to report on the findings of their case it is important not only to tell the truth, but also to leave the correct impression. It is the job of the expert witness to help the judge and jurors understand the evidence(2006a) The purpose of ethics is to have guidelines which are there to make sure that the practice of the investigator is proper and promotes trust within the profession. Forensic evidence should always be based on true scientific foundations and not theories. With a lack of scientific testing in forensic investigations a miscarriage of justice is most likely going to happen. This is a profession where the stakes are high with lots of pressure to come up with the correct answer to how the fire did occur. With new scientific proof the techniques Investigators use are moving towards a universal standard which all professional forensic investigators must adhere. These standards are then governed by the ethics to which fire investigator follows so that they know they whenever they are called as an expert witness that there hypothesis is grounded on reliable scientific proof.
2006a. Fire Investigation Procedures. Scientific Protocols for Fire Investigation. CRC Press.
2006b. The Professional Practice of Fire Investigation. Scientific Protocols for Fire Investigation. CRC Press.
2007. Ethics. Practical Handbook for Professional Investigators, Second Edition. CRC Press.
2008a. Being an Expert Witness. The Scientist or Engineer as an Expert Witness. CRC Press.
2008b. NFPA 921 Guide for Fire and Explosion Investigation, Quincy, National Fire Protection Association.
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