The Medical University of Graz plans to establish a Centre of Forensic Sciences – Forensicum Graz, with construction beginning in 2018. This centre will provide a venue for novel, multi-disciplinary approaches that are unique, not only in Austria, but also throughout German-speaking countries. The purpose of this centre is to address the current limitations of the forensic sciences in terms of both the criminological services offered and research conducted. The Forensicum Graz will house resources that combine expertise from the fields of clinical and post-mortem morphological forensics, clinical forensic imaging, forensic chemistry and molecular biology, technical sciences with focus on computer-aided forensic reconstruction and juridical expertise in criminal and medical law. This institute will be established on the Medical University of Graz campus, and its researchers will work closely with scientists at the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Clinical Forensic Imaging (LBI CFI), the Graz University of Technology (forensic imaging and forensic technology development, biomechanics) and the University of Graz (criminal law). Public bodies acting in the judiciary and medical systems as well as organisations that provide support for victims will be important stakeholders in the Forensicum Graz. This institution will represent a scientific hub, providing infrastructure for conducting internationally acclaimed forensic research. It will also serve as a competent contact point, providing expertise on the medical, technological and juridical aspects of forensics.
The Institute of Forensic Medicine at the Medical University of Graz is responsible for the provinces of Styria, Carinthia and Southern Burgenland, an area that includes a human population of approximately 2 million people. In addition to conducting scientific research and academic teaching of medical and graduate students, staff at the Institute primarily perform court-ordered autopsies, toxicological screenings and DNA profiling, examine victims of violence and act as expert witnesses in criminal trials. Moreover, the research areas of forensic chemistry and molecular biology, including trace analysis, will be continuously developed to ensure meeting state-of-the-art requirements. Further developments in the field of advanced forensic services and increased scientific output are on the agenda, which will allow the institute to become one of Austria’s leading institutions for legal medicine. The preparations to receive quality certification for forensic services have been initiated.
The LBI CFI was founded in June 2008 under the umbrella of the Ludwig Boltzmann Gesellschaft GmbH (LBG). It is an independent research centre, located on the premises of the Institute of Forensic Medicine at the Medical University of Graz. It dedicates its research efforts to Forensic Radiology. The scientific goal of the interdisciplinary research team is to develop the basic parameters for magnetic resonance tomography (MRT) and computed tomography (CT) imaging in clinical-forensic applications. The goal is to improve the results of forensic examinations and support forensic experts’ reports with objectively collected data, including data on internal injuries. Furthermore, the LBI CFI strives to achieve a higher level of legal certainty and establish radiological methods as standard procedures in forensic examinations. The following organizations are partners within the framework of the LBI-CFI: Ludwig Boltzmann Gesellschaft GmbH, Medical University of Graz, University of Graz (Law), Higher Regional Court of Graz in coordination with the Federal Ministry of Justice, the Federal Ministry of the Interior and the Heidelberg University Hospital, Germany. The integration and participation of Austrian legal authorities, institutions and services represents a key requirement for the forensic applicability of the LBI-CFI’s scientific results.
In cooperation with the Medical University of Graz, the LBI CFI runs a Clinical-Forensic Outpatient Centre, the current focus of which is the documentation and examination of injuries of victims of survived violence as well as the age estimation of adolescents and young adults.
During the initial phase of the Forensicum Graz, the LBI-CFI and the current Institute of Forensic Medicine will be merged in a stepwise manner. The funding the LBI-CFI receives from the LBG will gradually decrease and cease by 2022. The Forensicum Graz is being established to create a sustainable inter-university institution that offers services beyond standard forensic services by combining expertise from the most relevant forensic disciplines. These comprise medicine, molecular biology, toxicology, analytical chemistry, imaging and analytical technologies and criminal law. This approach is novel, ambitious and highly challenging.
The structural organisation of the Forensicum Graz has been outlined in a concept that has been positively reviewed by international experts. However, the final details of the organisational chart of the Forensicum Graz have yet to be determined. It is envisaged to establish the leadership as a diarchy, in which two directors would be responsible for the medical, scientific and administrative, juridical agendas, respectively. The management would need to ensure not only the maintenance of high scientific quality and standards, but also consistent (re-)adaptation of the research conducted to meet the current legal and forensic requirements. Ideally, the medical and scientific director will be the Chair of the Institute of Forensic Medicine at the Medical University of Graz, to be appointed in 2017. Hence, it will be the pivotal task of the new Professor of Forensic Medicine to actively participate in developing the intertwined, strategic concepts of the current Institute of Forensic Medicine and future Forensicum Graz.