Select Committee on Science and Technology Seventh Report


185. Forensic science is now central to the detection and deterrence of crime, conviction of the guilty and exculpation of the innocent. Moreover, the significance of forensic science to the criminal justice system can be expected to intensify in years to come.

186. The FSS has occupied a pivotal position in the forensic science arena in England and Wales for many years. In that time it has become the world leader in forensic science and a major asset to UK policing. It is generally acknowledged that the FSS could benefit from changes to its Trading Fund status in order to give it greater access to capital and commercial freedom, but the mechanism by which this should be achieved is a subject of contention. The Government has a responsibility to render the process of decision making over the future of the FSS as transparent as possible. If it fails to do so, this could do irreparable damage to the confidence and morale of the staff whose commitment has been essential to the past success of the FSS.

187. We urge the Government to fulfil its promise to fully test the merits of the GovCo model for the FSS: it must not be set up to fail. If the Government does decide to develop the FSS as a PPP, it is essential that it puts in place safeguards to guarantee continued access to the full range of services at affordable price and of the required quality standards for the police and criminal justice system. It is a risky and irresponsible strategy to rely on market forces to achieve this. The Government will also have to ensure that it does everything possible to maintain public confidence during this process.

188. At present, there is no one person or organisation with responsibility for taking an overview of forensic science, from education and training through to R&D and its use in court. We recommend the establishment of a Forensic Science Advisory Council to serve as a regulator for the developing market in forensic service and as an independent source of advice. The Forensic Science Advisory Council could also oversee cross-cutting inspections of the entire chain of processes by which forensic science is employed in the criminal justice system. We also highlight the need for proper independent oversight, with ethical and lay input, of the National DNA Database.

189. While we recognise that the number of miscarriages of justice associated with expert evidence may be relatively low, we are extremely concerned by the lack of safeguards to prevent such miscarriages of justice from happening, and the complacency of the legal profession in regard to these matters. The complexity and role of forensic evidence are ever increasing and we have not seen evidence to reassure us that the criminal justice system has kept pace with these developments, or will be able to do so in the future. We have made a number of recommendations that we believe could improve the quality and treatment of expert evidence and decrease the potential for miscarriages of justice due to flawed expert evidence. These include greater scientific input and oversight through the establishment of both a Scientific Review Committee within the Criminal Cases Review Commission and a Science and the Law Forum, increased use of pre-trial hearings (in line with the Criminal Procedure Rules), and forensic and process training for all those involved in the criminal justice system as a condition of the role.

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