Regulation of the market
55. Much of the evidence received identified a need
for a regulator to oversee the development of the forensic services
market. At present, the Council for the Registration of Forensic
Practitioners (CRFP) accredits individual forensic practitioners
(see paragraph 132), while the UK Accreditation Service is recognised
by the Government as the body for accreditation of all types of
laboratories in conjunction with the two major standards: ISO/IEC
17025 and ISO 9000:2000. The arrangements for the National DNA
Database are discussed in chapter four. The Forensic Science Society
has only recently become a professional body and sees its role
as providing "a coherent source of advice and knowledge to
support the establishment of standards, working practices and
policies that enable a more effective contribution to the criminal
justice system from forensic science".
56. We heard a range of opinions about who the regulator
should be and what powers they should have. LGC was concerned
that "continuing with a 'winner takes all' approach to awarding
long-term multi-force contracts could rapidly destroy the market"
and said there was therefore "a clear role for an independent
custodian to oversee the operation of the forensic market".
Forensic Alliance told us that "The whole question of laboratory
accreditation for criminal justice purposes should be properly
tackled, perhaps through an extension of the database Custodian
function, or the appointment of a Forensic Regulator or, conceivably,
through The Council for the Registration of Forensic Practitioners
(CRFP) which is already performing the vital analogous function
of accrediting individual practitioners".
57. Other memoranda pointed out the potentially disruptive
effects that the development of novel technologies could have
on the forensic services market. ACPO told us: "The forensic
field is one in which any major technological or scientific breakthrough,
particularly if it involves miniaturisation or portability, could
result in short-term gain, but long-term loss of commercial opportunities
ACPO gave the example of "hand-held devices based on 'lab-on-a-chip'
technology, linked directly to forensic databases" that would
allow the police forces "to move more forensic analytical
processes back 'in-house', as the need for laboratory based services
LGC also commented on the "need to ensure that the introduction
of new technologies and techniques does not destroy the market".
LGC raised the possibility that if "a single supplier either
develops or purchases rights to a particular technique, service
or database which then becomes essential to forensic service provision,
and secures a monopoly in its use, it will effectively prevent
police forces from using a supplier without access to that technique".
It therefore advocated "a licensing system to be put in place,
so that developers of new techniques can be appropriately rewarded
for their innovation, but all suppliers can, on payment of an
appropriate licensing fee and demonstration of competence, use
58. The Home Office acknowledged that, whilst they
were satisfied that the three main suppliers all had "a strong
emphasis on the quality of service provided to the CJS [
further commercialisation of the forensic science market, especially
with untested new entrants, could however change this position".
The Home Office has put forward a model for regulation that involves
"the creation of a single quality assurance regulator (building
on the experiences of the Custodian of the National DNA Database)
accrediting suppliers who wish to provide services to the police
and, by arrangement, other entities within the CJS".
According to this model, "accreditation would be granted
at the corporate level but the accreditation process would be
based on appropriate quality standards applying to:
- The corporate body;
- The products and services provided; and
- The individuals responsible for the service".
The standards set would be minimum standards and
it would be up to police forces to demand higher standards in
any particular area. We do not believe that the Home Office model
for regulation based on the National DNA Database custodianship
arrangements would provide for sufficient independent monitoring
of the sector. We comment on the related but distinct issue of
the custodianship arrangements for the National DNA Database in
59. Historically, the FSS has also had responsibility
for advising the Government on forensic science matters. This
is no longer an appropriate arrangement in view of the changes
taking place in the FSS and the forensic science market more generally.
LGC, for example, noted that "the FSS's traditional position
as both scientific advisors to their parent department, the Home
Office, and custodian of national forensic intelligence resources,
such as the National DNA Database, mean that careful separation
of the commercial and strategic (national interest) functions
of the FSS will be vital".
The FSS's role in the custodianship of the NDNAD is discussed
in chapter four.
60. The Runciman Royal Commission on Criminal Justice
recommended as early as 1993 that a Forensic Science Advisory
Council should be created to serve as the regulator for the forensic
science community and an independent source of advice.
Strathclyde University told us that, providing it included representatives
of all the relevant stakeholders, such a Council could be an effective
mechanism for ensuring "scientific standards, integrity,
and continuity of provision of forensic science to the criminal
At this time of transition in
the forensic services market, the need for an independent regulator
is becoming ever more critical. We recommend that the Government
establish a Forensic Science Advisory Council to oversee the regulation
of the forensic science market and provide independent and impartial
advice on forensic science. The Council should
be an independent body but will need to include representatives
of all the major stakeholders, such as the Home Office, the police,
the FSS, Forensic Alliance and LGC, the Crown Prosecution Service,
and the Bar. The Council would
also be ideally placed to review, or to commission inspections
of, the use of forensic science across the whole of the criminal
justice system, and to propose improvements where necessary.
The Council could additionally oversee the work of the Forensic
Science Society and the Registration for the Council of Forensic
Practitioners, which should also be able to put forward representatives
to sit on the Council.