Forensic pathology: role within the Home Office
Information on the role of the Home Office Forensic Pathology Unit and it’s support of the Pathology Delivery Board.
Forensic pathology is a service provided to the coroners and police forces in England and Wales to assist in the investigation of homicide or suspicious death cases.
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.
This guide gives information on:
- how forensic pathologists are vetted and registered
- the codes and protocols which inform and regulate the way in which they work
- the Home Office register of forensic pathologists (‘the register’)
- the Pathology Delivery Board (PDB) and details of its membership
- the Home Office Forensic Pathology Unit, which monitors the standards set by the Forensic Science Regulator
Pathology Delivery Board
The PDB oversees the provision of forensic pathology services in England and Wales. You can read the constitution of the PDB.
The PDB (on behalf of the Home Secretary) recognises pathologists who have sufficient qualifications, training and experience to act on behalf of coroners and police in suspicious death and homicide cases. Applications to join the register are reviewed by the PDB and applicants are accepted onto the register only if they meet a strict criteria.
The board reports directly to the Home Secretary and is made up of stakeholders representing the following organisations:
- Home Office registered forensic pathologists
- National Police Chiefs’ Council
- Chief Coroner
- Coroners Society
- British Association in Forensic Medicine
- Crown Prosecution Service
- Royal College of Pathologists
- Forensic Science Regulator
- Human Tissue Authority
- Ministry of Justice
Revalidation and annual appraisals
Under the Medical Profession (Responsible Officers) (Amendment) Regulations 2013, the PDB is the designated organisation with responsibility for the oversight of appraisal and revalidation of Home Office registered forensic pathologists in England and Wales.
As part of its legal obligation under the regulations, the PDB has appointed an independent ‘Responsible Officer’ to oversee a system of annual appraisals that form part of the 5-year General Medical Council (GMC) revalidation process. It is the responsibility of all Home Office registered forensic pathologists to participate in the annual appraisal and revalidation process.
The PDB’s independent responsible officer may also act as a ‘suitable person’ for other specialist pathologists who undertake police case work but who are not on the Home Office register and do not have a prescribed connection to any other body. This may include other sub speciality disciplines such as forensic ophthalmic and forensic neuro pathologists for example.
You can download the annual appraisal forms, supporting documents and guidance. These forms, along with other useful documents, can also be found under other information.
Home Office Forensic Pathology Unit
The role of the Home Office Forensic Pathology Unit (HOFPU), based within the Home Office science directorate, is to monitor and maintain those standards pertaining to forensic pathology as set by the Home Office, Royal College of Pathologists and the Forensic Science Regulator. The unit acts as the secretariat to the PDB as well as administering the appraisal process for forensic pathologists.
The HOFPU supports and funds the training of trainee forensic pathologists; investigates complaints made against members of the register; conducts research into homicide and forensic pathology related issues, and maintains close liaison with regional forensic pathology user groups and other key stakeholders.
Forensic Pathology Unit
1st Floor Peel Building
2 Marsham Street
Telephone: 020 7035 1128
Forensic pathology group practices
Nationally, there are 6 regional forensic pathology group practices supporting coroners and the police in England and Wales. Each group practice must consist of a minimum of 3 Home Office registered 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 published a definition of 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 the Department of Justice of Northern Ireland.
The PDB ensures that the high standards expected of Home Office registered forensic pathologists are maintained. Pathologists are subject to 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.
Careers in forensic pathology
You must first qualify as a medical doctor before going on to specialise in forensic pathology. This specialism is governed and controlled by the:
These bodies can provide guidance on careers in forensic pathology.
- A review of forensic pathology in England and Wales: submitted to the Minister of State for Crime Prevention, March 2015: the ‘Hutton Review’
- Annual appraisals for forensic patholgists
- Memorandum of understanding between the General Medical Council and the Pathology Delivery Board
- Police human tissue audit: 2010 to 2012
- Legal issues in forensic pathology and tissue retention: issue 2 guidance
- Pathology Delivery Board minutes
- Provision of forensic pathology services in event of regulatory action by HTA
- Guidance: provision of human tissue to the defence
- A study into decision making at the initial scene of unexpected death
- The role of forensic pathologists
- Taking and retaining human tissue in a post mortem examination
Published: 26 March 2013
Updated: 16 September 2016
- Updated information published.
- Added guidance on taking human tissue in post mortems, the role of a forensic pathologist and a study into decision making at the initial scene of unexpected death.
- Added a review of forensic pathology in England and Wales by Professor Peter Hutton
- Forensic Pathology Unit contact details added.
- First published.