Forensic pathology

Forensic pathology is a service provided to the coroners and police forces in England and Wales to assist in the investigation of violent or suspicious deaths.

Home Office registered forensic pathologists work within regional group practices, which are independent of the police, coroners and the Home Office. Group practices are currently structured so that pathologists working within them may be self-employed or employed by a university hospital or a hospital trust.

Home Office role

The Home Office hosts the Pathology Delivery Board (PDB), which oversees the provision of forensic pathology services in England and Wales. The constitution document for the PDB is available to view.

The PDB (on behalf of the Home Secretary) recognises pathologists who having sufficient training and experience to act on behalf of coroners and police in suspicious death and homicide cases; these pathologists are entered on the Home Office register of forensic pathologists

The Emeritus register of forensic pathologists lists former Home Office-registered forensic pathologists, who no longer appear on the register. These pathologists provide a service, but do not undertake on-call investigations into suspicious death and homicide cases on behalf of the police.

Home Office pathology unit

The role of the Home Office pathology unit, based within the Home Office science directorate, is to monitor and maintain those standards pertaining to forensic pathology as set by the Home Office and the Forensic Science Regulator.

The unit also supports and funds the training of prospective forensic pathologists; investigates complaints made against members of the register; and maintains close liaison with regional forensic pathology user groups and other key stakeholders.

Pathology Delivery Board

The board reports directly to the Home Secretary and is made up of stakeholders representing the following organisations: 

  • Home Office-registered forensic pathologists
  • Association of Chief Police Officers
  • Coroners Society
  • British Association for Forensic Medicine
  • Crown Prosecution Service
  • Royal College of Pathologists
  • Home Office-Forensic Science Regulator (specialist pathology group)
  • Human Tissue Authority

Forensic pathology group practices

Nationally, there are six regional forensic pathology group practices supporting coroners and the police in England and Wales. Each group practice must consist of a minimum of three registered Home Office forensic pathologists. All members of the register are required to be members of a group practice as a condition of registration. Members of the register are not permitted to practice independently, outside of a formal group practice arrangement. The PDB has defined a group practice.

Within group practices, forensic pathologists agree to abide by the code of practice jointly produced by the Home Office, Royal College of Pathologists, forensic science regulator and Northern Ireland's Department of Justice.

Statistics of forensic pathology group practices and statistics relating to post mortem data by police force are published quarterly.

Questions

  • How do I make a complaint against a Home Office-registered forensic pathologist?

The PDB ensures that the high standards expected of registered forensic pathologists are maintained. Pathologists are governed by Suitability Rules, which replace the Disciplinary Rules on 1st January 2013.

If you wish to make a complaint against a registered forensic pathologist, you can email the Home Office pathology unit.

  • How do you become a forensic pathologist?

You must gain the educational and training requirements for medicine, and then you specialise in forensic pathology. This specialism is governed and controlled by the:

These bodies can provide help and guidance to those interested in pursuing a career within forensic pathology.

Inclusion on the register of forensic pathologists is controlled by the PDB, which reviews all applications. The criteria for registration are available, as is the protocol by which Home Office-registered pathologists agree to abide.

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