Parliamentary Committees and Public Enquiries
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MPs criticise government plans for Forensic Science Service closure

MPs published a report on Friday 1 July criticising the government’s plans for winding down the Forensic Science Service, saying the current deadline for closure is unlikely to ensure an orderly transition and urging the government to extend the deadline by at least six months. 

The report highlights concerns over the shrinking forensics market - driven by police in-sourcing of forensic science - and a failure by the government to consider enough evidence in its decision-making.  

The Science and Technology Committee says it is not confident that an orderly transition can be achieved by the extremely challenging deadline for closure of the FSS of March 2012. Extending the deadline by at least six months would allow the government to consult on and determine a wider strategy for forensic science.

Impact of closure

In making its decision to close the FSS, the government failed to give enough consideration to the impact on forensic science research and development, the capacity of private providers to absorb the FSS’s 60% market share and the wider implications for the criminal justice system. These considerations appear to have been hastily overlooked in favour of the financial bottom line.

Andrew Miller MP, Chair of the Committee, said,

"We were shocked when conducting this inquiry at how little consideration the government had given to the wider impacts of the FSS closure before making its decision. The elephant in the room was police in-sourcing to largely unaccredited labs which had been eroding the market away from the FSS and private providers.

"We now call on the government to stabilise the market, curbing police in-sourcing, and come up with a sensible strategy for forensic science research and provision in England and Wales."

It is unacceptable that the Chief Scientific Adviser to the Home Office was satisfied with his exclusion from the decision-making process, and with his failure to challenge the closure decision. Andrew Miller commented,

"In deciding to close an organisation with science in its title, the Home Office sidelined its own Chief Scientific Adviser. That says volumes about its attitude to science. But more worryingly, the Chief Scientific Adviser’s acceptance of his exclusion raises questions about his effectiveness within the Home Office."

Historical inadequacies

The report also draws attention to the historical inadequacies in government decision-making that brought the FSS to its current financial situation, and says that much of the responsibility for the problems now facing the FSS lies with previous administrations.

The FSS’s dire financial position appears to have arisen from a complex combination of factors, principally the shrinking forensics market, driven by increasing police in-sourcing of forensic science services, and a forensic procurement framework that has driven down prices and does not adequately recognise the value of complex forensic services.

Risks to criminal justice

In the transition to closure, transferring work from the FSS to a non-accredited police or private laboratory would be highly undesirable, posing significant and unacceptable risks to criminal justice. The Committee says proposals should be brought forward immediately to provide the Forensic Science Regulator with statutory powers to enforce compliance with quality standards.

Forensics market

If the government wants a competitive market in forensic services it must ensure that the market is not distorted by the police customer increasingly becoming the competitor. The government’s ambitions for fully privatised forensic science provision are jeopardised by its complacent attitude towards police forensic expenditure, warns the report.

The stabilisation of the shrinking forensics market is now of crucial importance. A shrinking market provides no incentive for further investment or growth from forensic science providers external to the police. The Committee recommends that the government introduces measures to ensure that the police do not further in-source forensic science services that are already available from external providers through the National Forensic Framework Agreement (NFFA) and successor procurement frameworks.

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