Acting Chair of the Committee, Dr Tania Mathias MP said:
"The Government’s Forensics Strategy was already two years late, but further delay would have been preferable to this inadequate document. The weaknesses in this document raise the question of whether the Forensics Strategy stands up as a strategy. It is missing a coherent vision for forensic services and a route-map to deliver it.
"Government should acknowledge that the Forensics Strategy is an incomplete document which leaves too many issues under-developed to constitute a coherent description of the Government's policy and direction in this important area."
Key criticisms of the Strategy document outlined in the report:
- 'Scoping work' on key areas of the strategy is still underway.
- An evident failure to consult widely on the Strategy before its publication.
- The Strategy is vague about how Government plans for police forces locally-negotiating the procurement of forensic services from the private sector will deliver the “more consistent national approach” that the Strategy claims to seek.
- The strategy lacks detail on the possibility of a joint biometrics and forensics service which risks being taken forward without the benefit of a still-to-be-published Biometrics Strategy.
The Government should aim—on the back of the hopefully imminent publication of its long-awaited Biometrics Strategy and the conclusion of the police's forensics service 'scoping work'—to present a revised 'draft Forensic Strategy' for a full public consultation. Once that is done, the Committee hopes to see a Strategy ‘that justifies such a description’.
The Government should make it clear to police forces that they must secure accreditation of their forensic laboratories to the industry's standards by the deadlines set by the Forensic Services Regulator. Where police forces provide forensic services in-house, they do not currently have to meet accredited standards—unlike the private sector.
Statutory quality enforcement powers for the Regulator are essential, the report warns, to ensure that she has sufficient levers to enforce compliance with quality standards by all forensics service providers. The Government must bring forward the legislation, before the end of the current 2016-17 Parliamentary Session, to give the Forensics Regulator the statutory powers needed to ensure accreditation and standards compliance.
Acting Chair's further comment:
"Standard-setting and accreditation will help dispel concerns about 'cognitive bias' in the police commissioning and undertaking forensic examinations. The Government must be clear that while some police forces may face particular challenges in securing accreditation, there must be no failure to meet the Regulator's deadlines."
There remains a pressing requirement for more forensics research, including into how well the science contributes to the criminal justice system. Without the benefit of the results of such research, we cannot know whether the low proportion of forensic cases reaching court is the result of defendants not wishing to contest the forensics or represents a misdirected allocation of resources.
The Government should without delay commission the research it promised on the reasons for the low proportion of forensic cases reaching court. The Home Office should press for a greater priority—and share of funding—to be given to forensics research. Furthermore, a significant proportion of any savings achieved from implementing the Forensics Strategy should be ring-fenced to fund forensic science research.