Wednesday 1 May 2019

Forensic Science in crisis

Forensic Science is in crisis and must be reformed.  The UK was once regarded as world-leading in forensic science but an absence of high-level leadership, a lack of funding and an insufficient level of research and development now means the UK is lagging behind others.  The forensic science market is not properly regulated creating a state of crisis and a threat to the criminal justice system.

That is the view of the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee as set out in its report of 1 May 2019.

Science and Technology Committee Report

There can be no doubt
that the present-day state of affairs has come about because of government policy.  The government announced closure of the Forensic Science Service (FSS) in 2010 and it was actually closed in 2012.  The FSS closure was preceded by many expert warnings about the likely impact but these appear to have been largely ignored as government ploughed ahead with its plans to privatise crucial services.  Matters have been made worse by the government's failure to provide the Forensic Science Regulator with essential statutory powers.  

The committee's conclusions and recommendations are summarised HERE and include -
  • A Forensic Science Board should be created to deliver a new forensic science strategy and to take responsibility for forensic science in England and Wales.
  • The remit and resources of the Forensic Science Regulator should be significantly reformed and expanded to include responsibility for regulating the market and given a number of statutory powers to bolster trust in the quality of forensic science including: issue improvement notices and fines; rescind a forensic science provider's accreditation and inspect, without notice, accredited forensic science providers.
  • The Legal Aid Agency should liaise with the market-regulation arm within the expanded role of the Forensic Science Regulator to set new pricing schemes for forensic testing and expert advice for defendants and that the Ministry of Justice and the Home Office should invest in research of automation techniques for data retrieval and analysis to tackle the issues with digital forensic analysis.
  • To return the UK to its position as world-leading, a National Institute for Forensic Science should be created to set strategic priorities for forensic science research and development, and to coordinate and direct research and funding.
The Forensic Science Regulator (Dr Gillian Tully) has welcomed the "far-reaching and thougtful" report - HERE.
A private members' bill is currently before Parliament but will have little chance of success without government support - see the Bill.
The Guardian 1 May 2019 - Forensic Science labs are on the brink of collapse, warns report

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