Unclear future of forensic science threatens criminal justice

foresnsic-scienceThe government has been criticised for jeopardising the UK justice system’s ability to convict criminals unless it provides more support for forensic science.

The Science and Technology Committee claims the closure of the Forensic Science Service (FSS) in March 2012 has had a detrimental effect on criminal justice.  Private laboratories and in-house police services have been forced to plug the gap left by the closure.

However, the Committee has found that private forensic science firms are struggling to adequately keep up and some police forensic laboratories have failed to make sufficient progress towards achieving accreditation to the same quality standard as private providers.

The Committee claims a proper strategy for forensic science needs to be put in place as the current “hands-off approach” is damaging the criminal justice system.

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.”

police-lineThe Committee has raised concerns surrounding the difficulties forensic researchers have in getting funding. This risks the UK falling behind when it comes to capitalising on the latest research and technologies. Miller called on the government to treat forensic science research as “a strategic priority”.

He added: “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of forensic science and yet we heard that serious crimes, like rape and murder, may be going unsolved as we rely on outdated technology.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 professional union Prospect, which represented more than 1,000 FSS workers who lost their jobs when the service closed, has agreed that a proper strategy for forensic science is “long overdue”.

It claims there has been a “haemorrhage” of highly qualified scientists from the forensic science sector and this expertise cannot be built up quickly to replace that loss of intellectual wealth. Prospect also criticised a lack of central funding for forensic science research in the UK, warning the current model “fails to motivate private providers to invest in specialist skills”.

Sue Ferns, director of communications and research at Prospect, said: “The Government must act now to mitigate the dreadful damage it has already wreaked on forensic science by improving regulation, investing in R&D and bringing back the skills that were lost when FSS was closed.”

Brian Rankin, the head of the Centre for Forensic Investigation at Teesside University, which had its submissions quoted twice in the Committee report, said it is clear the decision to close the FSS was “flawed” and “not based on solid financial foundations”. This has led to the UK’s forensic science services now facing an uncertain future unless there is government support coming.

He said: “The key position once held for UK R&D and innovation is seriously threatened as it is unclear if the remaining forensic providers or the police will provide significant investment for the future.”

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