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  State of forensic science

How about we create some sort of national forensic science service?

When the government announced back in 2010 that the Forensic Science Service (FSS) was to close, many commentators, ourselves included, had questions. How would the Service’s ability to give some coherence to the national provision of forensic evidence to the criminal justice system be replicated by a highly distributed network of commercial suppliers? How would the coorinated lead on forensic science research exhibited by the Service be continued? The answers to both appear to be... it couldn’t.

In March 2016, the Home Office published Forensic Science Strategy – A national approach to forensic science delivery in the criminal justice system (see www.gov.uk) following a warning from the National Audit Office (see The Home Office’s oversight of forensic services) that standards were slipping. In the foreword, the Minister for Policing, Fire and Criminal Justice and Victims states that the government will continue ‘supporting [police] forces to deliver a nationally coordinated approach to forensic science delivery’.

However, the Science and Technology Committee (Commons) is not impressed. Its 4th Report on the Forensic Science Strategy says:

‘The Strategy is vague about how the intended locally-negotiated non-standard procurement approach for police forces commissioning forensic services from the private sector will deliver the proposed “more consistent national approach”. It also lacks detail on the possibility of a joint biometrics and forensics service which risks being taken forward without the benefit of a published Biometrics Strategy.’

‘Together, these weaknesses raise the question of whether the Forensics Strategy is a strategy at all: it is missing a coherent vision for forensic services and a route-map to deliver it. The impression instead is of a plan to produce a Strategy. That impression also arises from the fact that “scoping work” on key areas is still underway, and because of an evident failure to consult widely on the Strategy before its publication.’

The Committee continues:

‘There remains a pressing requirement for more forensics research, including into how well the science contributes to the criminal justice system. There is no mechanism for setting national forensic research priorities, and efforts to share data on identified research requirements, and on who is undertaking what research, are inadequate. The Home Office should press for a greater priority – and share of funding – to be given to forensics research. Any savings achieved from implementing the Forensics Strategy should not be wholly subsumed in general police budgets, but instead a significant proportion ring-fenced and used specifically to fund forensic science research needs.’

Remembering that the original FSS was closed to save £2 million, one wonders whether some of the currently envisaged saving might be used to re-open a national FSS whose remit included ‘setting national forensic research priorities’. A new FSS that worked with the commercial providers to help embed quality standards in a diverse marketplace of commercial forensic science providers might be hoped to do a good sight better than the current set up.

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December 2016

State of forensic science
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April 2017

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