What is ISO 17025 in the forensic science context?

In a series of posts, I am going to introduce the reader to the existence of ISO 17025 and its importance.  I am going to introduce it in bite-sized bits for easy digestion.  Just like all matters of learning, knowledge is incremental over time and builds upon previous exposure.  So, the first logical question is:

What is ISO 17025?

ISO 17025 cover

ISO 17025 is a conceptual framework that was adopted by an international committee comprised of people not in the law enforcement community, but rather in the scientific community as a whole as well as those who are in industry[i]. This is an important distinction in that, unlike the ASCLD/LAB Legacy program where there is a persistent myth that the accreditation process and the auditing process is one fraught with nepotism and cronyism and results in oversight and standards that are woefully forensically and scientifically lacking, the ISO 17025 standard was created by an international committee through the ISO governing body in Switzerland. It does not specifically address the forensic science community, but rather covers any and all laboratories involved in testing and calibration services.  Indeed, it is an ambitious attempt to find consensus to cover such wide-ranging endeavors as industry, pharmaceuticals, and even crime laboratories.

This effort and wide scope is evidenced by the subtitle of ISO 17025, which is “General Requirements for the Competency and Testing of Calibration Laboratories.” The general goal of the ISO community as well as the general goal of the standard is, as the name of the organization connotes, “ISOS” which is etymologically from the Greek word meaning equality or consistency. The goal of the conceptual framework is to create equal work product coming out from an organization and across organizations. As the standard is designed to cover a wide scope of those performing testing and calibration services, the guidelines themselves are not overly specific.  In fact, the requirements consist of only five Sections and covers only 23 substantive pages. This need for generalities was necessary in order to accommodate the ISO 17025 large committee structure and its attempts to reach consensus in its promulgations. Also it allowed the eventual requirements that came about not only to be general enough to be universally applicable to the various endeavors that are involved in testing and calibration, but also specific enough to provide meaning. If you read ISO 17025, you would see that it is sparse with specific details.

[i] These ISO standards are developed through technical committees.  The ISO Committee on Conformity Assessment (CASCO) is responsible for formulating draft standards.  Other government and non-governmental entities liaison with ISO/IEC during the public comment period.  The publication of any standard requires approval by at least 75% of the national bodies casting a vote.

3 Responses to “What is ISO 17025 in the forensic science context?”

  • Hi there,

    Am working as a Forensic Analyst in South Africa in the Field of Questioned document, I would to do a research in ISO 17025 and the accreditation of Forensic labs. Please forward me information and other journal that you might have that could be useful for research.


  • Unfortunately in the United States of America at this time, there is no requirement for a forensic laboratory to be accredited at all. There are no minimum standards. No such resource exists in the US.

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