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Forensic science changes could jeopardise criminal justice system

25 July 2013

There are risks to the justice system’s ability to convict criminals and meet the needs of victims unless there is a proper strategy for forensic science following the closure of the Forensic Science Service (FSS), the Science and Technology Committee has warned.

Commenting on the Government’s attitude towards forensic science, Andrew Miller MP, Chair of the Science and Technology Committee, said

“Forensic science provides vital evidence to the criminal justice system and if the Government wants to continue being able to put the most serious criminals behind bars it has a duty to protect its health. Unfortunately the current Minister doesn’t think it needs a strategy, instead preferring a hands-off approach.

 

"This is the type of thinking that led to the creation of an unstable forensics market, which led to the demise of the Forensic Science Service and now threatens the success of remaining private forensic science providers.”

The FSS closed in March 2012. The Committee found that the Government was slow in recognising the wider costs of its closure to the criminal justice system (CJS) and demonstrating value for money to the taxpayer. A lack of transparency over total police expenditure on forensic science exacerbated this uncertainty.

The Committee also found that some police forensic laboratories had failed to make sufficient progress towards achieving accreditation to the same quality standard (ISO 17025) as private providers. The Forensic Science Regulator (FSR) now has an even more important role in ensuring compliance with quality standards.

Andrew Miller MP added:

“We have reiterated our previous call for the Government to bring forward proposals for statutory powers for the FSR. This is particularly important given the disparate nature of forensic science provision across public and private sector. There must be a level playing field and in particular the police should work to the same standards as they demand from private providers.”

The Committee was also concerned that it remains as difficult as ever for forensic researchers to obtain funding for their research. The funding shortage means that the UK could fail to maintain its reputation in forensic science and fall behind on the capitalisation of new research and technologies.

Andrew Miller MP concluded:

“Research and development is the lifeblood of forensic science and yet we heard that serious crimes, like rape and murder, may be going unsolved as we rely on outdated technology. It may take years before we realise the consequences of neglecting R&D. The Government and Research Councils should now treat forensic science research as a strategic priority.” 

Further information

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