The Institute of Forensic Research was formally established in Warsaw on the basis of a decree issued by the Minister of Justice on November 25, 1929. In fact, the Institute had begun to function long before this date; the decree merely marked its official opening.
In 1927, Appeal Judge Józef Skorzynski had been assigned the task of creating ‘an institute for forensic studies’ by the Minister of Justice, and then, on the basis of subsequent decrees, issued on 25 May 1929 and 10 January 1930, had been appointed Director of the newly established institute. In May 1929, Department I of Physico-Chemical Research was set up, followed, in September 1929, by Department II of Chemico-Toxicological Research. Shortly afterwards, Department III of Biological Research was established. Judge J Skorzynski was Director of the Institute until the first days of September 1939. After Warsaw was occupied by German forces, the property of the Institute - the most up-to-date equipment, laboratory aids and library - was plundered, and passed on to the Security Police (Sicherheitspolizei) in Berlin.
However, during the Nazi occupation, the Chemistry Department of the National Institute of Forensic Medicine and Criminalistics at the underground Jagiellonian University in Krakow remained open, with Dr Jan Zygmunt Robel as its head. The department became, according to contemporary witnesses, “a secret asylum for conspirators and activists in the Polish underground movement”. As director of the department, Dr Robel organised clandestine studies of medicine, and managed to secure the remaining property of the now defunct Warsaw Institute: some furniture and laboratory glassware, documentation and archives.
Files brought down from Warsaw to Krakow at the behest of the Polish resistance authorities enabled Dr Robel to model the organisational structure of the Chemistry Department in Krakow on that of the Warsaw establishment. Robel also introduced methods of laboratory research developed by his Warsaw colleagues to the Krakow centre, adding his own ideas gained during work as a forensic expert and lecturer. Robel wanted a nucleus of the Institute to be in place, in readiness for a fully-fledged resurrection after the war - and that is exactly what happened shortly after the Germans withdrew. The most outstanding achievement of the underground department in the occupation period was the research it undertook, under Dr Robel, on documents and depositions found on or near Polish victims of the Soviet massacres at Katyn.
Jan Robel was also the first post-war Director of the re-established Institute. At the time much assistance was received from the Jagiellonian University, which provided a location and equipment.
In 1949 Judge Jan Sehn assumed directorship of the institute. Sehn was later appointed Professor and first Director of the Department of Criminalistics at the Jagiellonian University. Under his leadership, the Institute acquired a new organisational structure, was re-located to its present site in 1952/3, and developed further. From its inception, Professor Sehn was a member of the Commission for the Investigation of Nazi War Crimes, and Chairman of the Krakow District Commision until 1953. He died suddenly in 1965 in Frankfurt-am-Main during an official visit as part of the investigations of the Committee. In 1966 the Institute was named after Professor Sehn.
The next Director of the Institute of Forensic Research was Professor Jan Markiewicz, a chemist and toxicologist. He was in charge of the Institute for 25 years (1966-1991), successfully steering it through difficult periods of Poland’s contemporary history. Until his passing in 1996, Professor Markiewicz served as Chairman of the Scientific Board of the Institute.
In 1992 Aleksander Głazek, a lawyer, was appointed Director of the Institute and led it untill his early death in 2009.
On the thirtieth anniversary of the death of Jan Zygmunt Robel, a memorial prize was set up in his name for the best master’s, bachelor’s or diploma thesis in the field of forensic science.