A Blueprint for Change
Today, the Lords Science and Technology Committee published their report following their inquiry into Forensic Science. This was probably the most comprehensive and inclusive inquiry to date taking evidence from all stake-holders in the forensic science arena. And this time, parties that had previously been tentative in responding to questions were now far more candid and hard-hitting in their responses than in previous inquiries. Maybe this reflected the urgency of change that is now necessary to prevent the potential collapse of the forensic market and the repercussions that would have for the criminal justice system. The Lords appear to have realised that we are at a critical point:
“This report follows others that have raised similar concerns, yet the changes that are necessary have not been made, despite acknowledgements that they would be. Forensic science in England and Wales is in trouble. To ensure the delivery of justice, the time for action is now.“
The recommendations of the report include:
- Creation of a Forensic Science Board, an ‘arm’s-length body’ responsible for the coordination, strategy and direction of forensic science in England and Wales to work with the newly expanded role of the Forensic Science Regulator (see 2 below), the National Institute for Forensic Science (see 6 below), and wider stakeholders to create and deliver a new forensic science strategy focussed on greater coordination and collaboration The Forensic Science Board should ‘set England and Wales on track to regaining its world-class status in forensic science’.
- Reform and expansion of the Forensic Science Regulator’s (FSR) remit and resources to include responsibility for regulating the market. The report recommends that the FSR should review the structure of the market, in particular the procurement process for commissioning private sector providers alongside provision by police forces with the objective of determining a procurement model which balances price, quality and market sustainability.
- Introduction of statutory powers for the Forensic Science Regulatorby the Government as a matter of urgency to include powers to in inspect, issue improvement notices and fines, rescind accreditation where necessary and to prevent individuals from providing expert testimony with a corresponding appeals process.
- Setting of new pricing schemes for forensic testing and expert advice for defendants with the Legal Aid Agency liaising with the FSR to set new pricing schemes, properly funded by the Ministry of Justice
- Urgent work by the Government to build capacity and resilience in digital forensicsand investment in the research of automated techniques for data retrieval and analysis to reduce the delays in the criminal justice system.
- Creation of a National Institute for Forensic Science to set strategic priorities for forensic science research and development and to co-ordinate priorities and funding.
The full report can be accessed here.
The Forensic Science Regulator, Gill Tully welcomed the ‘far-reaching and thoughtful report’ and in a statement said that ‘This report makes clear that urgent action is required from the government and the police in England and Wales if we are to maintain high scientific standards’.
We now await the Government response.