Insufficient funding for forensic science “putting justice at risk” warns Government Regulator

Dr Gillian Tully

Dr Gillian Tully

A lack of funding to improve forensic science is jeopardising the integrity of the criminal justice system. That’s the considered and thought-provoking view espoused by Forensic Science Regulator Dr Gillian Tully in her Annual Report for 2015-2016. In the document, Tully states that not all police forces have been “fully committed” to reaching the required standards, with some failing to recognise the impact of quality failures in this area.

Tully also observes that the main challenge towards achieving quality forensic science over the past year has been financial. Indeed, the Regulator has now called on police forces and the Legal Aid Agency to make more funding available.

“Police forces must not treat quality standards for forensic science as an optional extra,” asserted Tully, “and neither must others delivering forensic science in the criminal justice system. Progress has been made, but some forces say they cannot afford to deliver both operational work and the required standards of forensic science. The standards are not an unachievable ‘gold-plated’ ideal. They are the minimum standards expected of any reliable forensic science.”

The Forensic Science Regulator’s second Annual Report also calls for investment in the forensic systems currently used by the police service to ensure they can keep pace with ever-increasing amounts of work.

Reaching the required standards

Other key findings from the report include the following:

*The Regulator finds there is still a significant risk of DNA contamination in police custody. Tully warns that, if guidance isn’t followed as a matter of urgency, contamination could compromise evidence or mislead the courts

*There’s also a risk of contamination at Sexual Assault Referral Centres which provide support for alleged victims of rape and sexual assault. An investigation by the Regulator is currently ongoing following a case last year when contamination at a Sexual Assault Referral Centre meant that a complainant’s samples couldn’t be used

*The report finds that forensic science carried out by instruction from defence lawyers has also been under significant financial pressure because of the current legal aid funding set-up

*Police forces are required to reach the required standards for digital forensics by the end of 2017. Although there has been a substantial effort within policing to assist forces in reaching the required standards for digital forensics, few will receive accreditation within the timescale stated

*There’s still a risk of incorrect classifications by investigators who classify firearms to establish whether they’re illegal weapons

*There’s a risk that some forensic medical examiners being commissioned don’t have the required level of training and qualification

Going forward, the Forensic Science Regulator will continue to work with the police service and other agencies across the criminal justice system to improve the quality of forensic science.

Committed to achieving accreditation

Responding to the Forensic Science Regulator’s Annual Report, Chief Constable Debbie Simpson (National Police Chiefs’ Council Lead for Forensic Science) said: “The police service is committed to achieving accreditation and improving standards of forensic science. This latest report has highlighted key priority areas for us to continue to enhance our response and prevent quality failures.”

Simpson continued: “We were successful in a bid to the Police Transformation Fund in order for the police to improve capability and standards. Existing expert networks across the country share Best Practice and offer immediate support when issues have been recognised.”

In conclusion, Simpson added: “Nationally, we will continue to work in partnership with police forces, forensic service providers and the Forensic Science Regulator in order to deliver on the forensic strategy and respond to the challenges faced by the service.”

About the Author
Brian Sims BA (Hons) Hon FSyI, Editor, Risk UK (Pro-Activ Publications) Beginning his career in professional journalism at The Builder Group in March 1992, Brian was appointed Editor of Security Management Today in November 2000 having spent eight years in engineering journalism across two titles: Building Services Journal and Light & Lighting. In 2005, Brian received the BSIA Chairman’s Award for Promoting The Security Industry and, a year later, the Skills for Security Special Award for an Outstanding Contribution to the Security Business Sector. In 2008, Brian was The Security Institute’s nomination for the Association of Security Consultants’ highly prestigious Imbert Prize and, in 2013, was a nominated finalist for the Institute's George van Schalkwyk Award. An Honorary Fellow of The Security Institute, Brian serves as a Judge for the BSIA’s Security Personnel of the Year Awards and the Securitas Good Customer Award. Between 2008 and 2014, Brian pioneered the use of digital media across the security sector, including webinars and Audio Shows. Brian’s actively involved in 50-plus security groups on LinkedIn and hosts the popular Risk UK Twitter site. Brian is a frequent speaker on the conference circuit. He has organised and chaired conference programmes for both IFSEC International and ASIS International and has been published in the national media. Brian was appointed Editor of Risk UK at Pro-Activ Publications in July 2014 and as Editor of The Paper (Pro-Activ Publications' dedicated business newspaper for security professionals) in September 2015. Brian was appointed Editor of Risk Xtra at Pro-Activ Publications in May 2018.

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