Falling prices and continuing cuts to funding for forensic science work are eating into essential services, the Forensic Science Regulator Dr Gillian Tully has warned in her Annual Report for 2017. In the 41-page document, which was published on Friday 19 January, Dr Tully points out that the cuts highlighted last year have continued in the sector, and with serious consequences.
Already, scientists have been required to give expert advice based on interim forensic reports because some police forces have refused to pay for the scientists to produce an admissible statement of evidence in court. Often, there’s little opportunity left for practitioners to prepare reports on complex cases or keep up with scientific developments.
At the same time, police are spending less on their own forensic science practices. With the tendering process for commercial services being focused heavily on costs, more and more money is taken out of the system.
Further pressure is being put on individual scientists by the delay of many organisations in starting the process of attaining the required quality standards, the Regulator states.
However, the Regulator also highlights that, despite the myriad challenges, “significant progress” has been made in the sector and that many organisations have achieved the required standards, or are well on their way to demonstrating objectively that their methods are scientifically valid and their staff competent.
Dr Gillian Tully said: “There are a lot of hard-working and committed forensic scientists doing their best, but they’re not always supported by the system in which they work. A year ago, I warned that funding was too tight, and now even more money has been taken out of the system. We cannot continue on this path. I urge the Government to put the role of the Regulator on a statutory footing now to enable me to ensure that all organisations providing forensic science evidence in the criminal justice system meet the high standards required.”
The failure of some police forces to give sufficient priority to achieving quality standards in their own forensic science work is of great concern to the Regulator. While it’s understandable that senior police leaders have a wide range of priorities, if quality cannot be sufficiently prioritised then it may become unsustainable for some forces to continue to conduct their own forensic science case work.
The Regulator also highlights in the report that a number of small forensic businesses have chosen, for financial reasons, not to move towards reaching the required standards. For these reasons, statutory powers are urgently needed such that the Regulator can ensure all providers of forensic science deliver work to quality standards that are deemed fit for the criminal justice system.
Response from the NPCC
Chief constable Debbie Simpson, the National Police Chiefs’ Council’s lead for forensics, has welcomed the report from the Forensic Science Regulator.
“We will continue to work closely with Dr Tully to ensure that all forces are meeting the high standards expected for accreditation,” explained Simpson. “As is the case with much of policing, chief constables are being forced to make difficult decisions about how they use their limited resources, but we remain completely committed to meeting the requirements of accreditation and further improving confidence in the criminal justice system.”
Simpson added: “Forces continue to develop in-house solutions and work with the private sector to deliver the highest possible quality of forensic services. While some have not yet met the deadline for accreditation, I’m confident that they’re fully committed to doing so.”
In conclusion, Simpson observed: “One of the elements of the Transforming Forensics Programme, which has put together a business case on behalf of policing, is to address some of the issues in the Forensic Science Regulator’s report, such as driving efficiencies through new ways of working to enhance quality and address gaps in research.”