Tuesday 28 December 2010

Forensic Science Service to be wound up

On 14th December 2010 Ministers informed Parliament that they had decided to close down the Forensic Science Service.  See the Government announcements.   The FSS provides a considerable range of services.

It is claimed that the service is losing £2m per month and that it has become uncompetitive having lost business to other providers.  The Police (ACPO) have said that their spend on external forensic suppliers will fall in the future and, in their statement, ACPO state that they are working in support of the Home Office on the wind down of the FSS.

The FSS is not by any means the sole supplier of forensic science services in the U.K.  However, in a letter to The Times (28th December 2010) some 33 eminent scientists are urging the government to rethink the closure of the service.  The scientists claim that the FSS has been in the forefront of important innovations such as DNA-typing which has been developed to a high degree of reliability.  The scientists see the government move as
the result of a privatisation strategy in a limited market with few customers and the provision of state-of-the-art forensic science will be reduced.  Research and innovation and attention to case-specific needs will all be affected adversely.

The Union - Prospect - (which represents members working with the FSS) is not surprisingly critical of the closure plan.  However, it has to be said that their criticisms hold much force and answers from the government are, so far, lacking.   See Prospect.  Their concerns relate to impartiality of forensic evidence; excessive market pressure from the Police to cut costs; ability to deal promptly with major incidents etc.

Articles - see Telegraph 28th December 2010 and also BBC News.

There is a Forensic Science Regulator who is closely linked to the Home Office and the Regulator is advised by a Forensic Science Advisory Council (chaired by the regulator).  Interestingly, there is no statutory basis for the Regulator or Council even though the establishment of the Council was one of the recommendations of the Royal Commission on Criminal Justice which reported in 1993.

Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre

The Times ("Experts warn of crime-scene chaos" 28th December) states that the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre is to be merged into a new National Crime Agency and that Ministers have sought to silence critics of that plan.  In October 2010 the head of the Centre resigned as a result of the government's plans - see BBC News.

Addendum - Links of Interest:

Forensic Science Advisory Council - Terms of Reference
Forensic Science - Manual of Regulation
Forensic Science Society
British Academy of Forensic Science
All about Forensic Science - a good site for the layman


  1. Ed (not Bystander)28 December 2010 at 18:51

    I find it disappointing that you describe arguments with which you agree as "having force", rather than attempting to summarise them, and/or explain why they have force.

  2. Ed (not Bystander) - just trying to keep the post reasonably short! I think the Prospect arguments are responsible and they seem to me to go beyond merely trying to serve the interests of their members. Their arguments are also supported by the scientists who wrote to The Times - (could not provide a link to their letter - paywall and all that).

    There is a clear need for forensic evidence to be from a source which can be trusted for its throughness and independence. Any doubts in that area will lead to expensive in court challenges. Given that some Police Forces are providing these services "in house" there is also bound to be a downward pressure on other providers to cut costs and the fear is that this will be at the expense of research and development.

    I have my view of their presentation. You do not say whether you disagree with Prospect. Any views on what they have said? That is, to my mind, a more productive avenue to pursue.

  3. Ed (not Bystander)28 December 2010 at 20:51

    What?? Challenging me to make a constructive contribution rather than just criticise?? This is the internets!!

    Having read the Prospects press release, most of it looks like special pleading, except for the R&D point. For instance, the concern about impartiality exists for all forensic science, particularly if the lab is funded by the government - there could be a claim that it is biased towards the prosecution, which is also funded by the government. R&D could easily be done by universities, based on central government funding.

  4. Ed (not Bystander) - I agree that R&D could be done elsewhere. However, there does not appear to be any proposal to do so and the risk is that it will disappear along with the FSS. I agree that questions of impartiality can exist with all sources and that will be particularly so where the services are provided by the Police. Suitably robust quality controls applicable to all providers are essential. In this area the regulator is arguably too close to the Home Office and it could also be argued that the Advisory Council should not be chaired by the regulator.

    The general complaint is of a government making these important decisions with minimal consultation. It is they who ought to be answering the questions being raised. It will be interesting to see how things develop. Many thanks for your comments.

  5. Ed (not Bystander)29 December 2010 at 00:31

    Thanks for your thoughtful posts and replies. Also, have a happy generic holiday season!