Select Committee on Science and Technology Seventh Report

Conclusions and recommendations

1.  The low visibility of the Home Office Chief Scientific Adviser is a source of concern, particularly in view of the history of weak scientific culture in the department. (Paragraph 7)

2.  The Government's poor track record at managing PPP projects does not inspire confidence in its ability to make a success of developing the FSS as a PPP. (Paragraph 35)

3.  We believe that a decision to expand the duration of the GovCo phase from a matter of minutes to up to two years is a sufficiently drastic change of pace to constitute a change of policy. Furthermore, the statement of January 11 2005 which vowed to test the GovCo model for the PPP in its own right is not consistent with the original acceptance of the McFarland Review in July 2003, which invoked GovCo only as a precursor to PPP. The Government's presentation of the decision has been misleading and confusing. At a time when the FSS and its staff have been seeking reassurance and clarity over the future of the organisation, the mixed messages being sent out by the Government are regrettable and damaging. (Paragraph 41)

4.  The Home Office's evidence clearly implies that, contrary to the impression given in its earlier statement, progression to PPP could indeed occur in the absence of agreement by all stakeholders that this is the best way to proceed. It is hard not to interpret the statement as an attempt to mollify those who opposed the PPP by using deliberate obfuscation. (Paragraph 42)

5.  Other than the change in ministerial responsibilities, we have not heard any convincing reasons for the delay between the statement that the FSS would become a PPP and the announcement of further details on the plans to develop the FSS. This 18 month delay has been to the detriment of the FSS and its staff. It is also indicative of poor planning that, following this long delay, a very tight deadline was set for the FSS GovCo to come into being. (Paragraph 44)

6.  It is worrying that the Government will have full responsibility both for designing the criteria by which the success of the FSS GovCo and the desirability of PPP will be assessed, and for making the assessment of whether those criteria have been met. Moreover, the Government, as sole shareholder, will have a significant influence over the management of the FSS through this transition; this in turn impacts on the chances of success at each stage. There is a pressing need for greater transparency and independent oversight of this process. We recommend that the Government make public the specific criteria that will be used for evaluating the success of GovCo and the need for progression to PPP. In addition, we recommend that the National Audit Office report on the Government's management of the transformation of the FSS in order to provide some level of independent scrutiny of the process. (Paragraph 46)

7.  Very clear evidence would be needed to justify a transition from GovCo status to a PPP. It should not be assumed that a GovCo is merely a transition step leading to a PPP and, if the FSS is successful as a GovCo, it should remain as such. (Paragraph 47)

8.  If the FSS becomes a PPP, the Government must put in place measures to ensure that the criminal justice system has continued access to the full range of forensic services at an affordable price—whether provided by the FSS or another supplier. We recommend that this be done on a force by force basis through agreements between police forces and suppliers, within the framework of the police procurement strategy. (Paragraph 49)

9.  It is now up to both the Home Office and the FSS management team to take positive action to address the concerns expressed by staff over their own personal future at the FSS and their wider apprehensions about the future of the organisation. (Paragraph 50)

10.  The Home Office appears to view a future global market in forensic services, where the UK provides an increasing proportion of services to other countries and foreign companies have an ever more significant role in the UK, as a natural extension of the status quo. We have seen no evidence that this view is based on a thorough analysis of the long-term implications of this scenario, either in terms of the realistic opportunities for the FSS (and other UK based companies) to gain a significant foothold in overseas markets, or in terms of whether extensive foreign involvement in the provision of services to the UK criminal justice system could jeopardise security or affect public confidence. We recommend that it undertakes such an analysis. (Paragraph 54)

11.  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. (Paragraph 60)

12.  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. (Paragraph 60)

13.  The arguments for the retention of DNA profiles of suspects who are not ultimately convicted in the interests of fighting crime need to be balanced against any potential infringement of civil liberties arising from this policy. (Paragraph 69)

14.  DNA evidence now represents a vital instrument for facilitating investigations and securing convictions. We believe that the recent expansion of the database would make a review of the impact of the NDNAD on the detection and deterrence of crime timely. (Paragraph 71)

15.  Independent research should be undertaken to assess the public attitude towards retention of DNA samples (both from convicted criminals and others), and the evidence of benefits associated with this practice. (Paragraph 72)

16.  We do not understand why consent should be irrevocable for individuals who are giving DNA samples on a voluntary basis. (Paragraph 75)

17.  Inviting a member of the Human Genetics Commission to sit on the NDNAD Board does not substitute for instigating proper arrangements for ethical and lay input. In failing to respond more positively to the calls for independent oversight of the database, the Home Office gave the impression that it was not a high priority. (Paragraph 77)

18.  We welcome the fact that the Home Office is to revise the custodianship arrangements for the NDNAD, and in particular the decision to remove the custodianship function from the FSS. However, we have not heard any firm commitment by the Home Office to establish an independent body with full ethical and lay input to oversee the workings of the database, in accordance with the recommendations of the Human Genetics Commission and others. Failure to do this at this juncture would be a wasted opportunity. (Paragraph 80)

19.  We regret the Home Office's misleading representation of the position of the Human Genetics Commission and its failure to take on board the Commission's criticisms. (Paragraph 81)

20.  It is extremely regrettable that for most of time that the NDNAD has been in existence there has been no formal ethical review of applications to use the database and the associated samples for research purposes. The recent initiation of negotiations with the Central Office for Research Ethics Committees is too little too late. (Paragraph 82)

21.  We are concerned that the introduction of familial searching has occurred in the absence of any Parliamentary debate about the merits of the approach and its ethical implications. (Paragraph 84)

22.  Any future extension to the applications for which the data in the NDNAD can be used must be subject to public scrutiny. (Paragraph 85)

23.  We recognise that adventitious matches are extremely unlikely under the current regime. Nevertheless, we find Professor Sir Alec Jeffreys' warning that the "consequences of even one false match leading to a conviction that was subsequently overturned could be severe for the DNA database and its public acceptability" sufficiently persuasive to merit a thorough investigation of the benefits and risks of staying with the current 10 marker system and moving to, for argument's sake, a 16 marker system. We therefore recommend that the Government commission a cost-benefit analysis for this move. (Paragraph 88)

24.  The Government should continue to make funding available to enable the upgrading of SGM profiles currently stored in the NDNAD to SGM Plus profiles. We further recommend that cases where DNA evidence has been used to convict someone who continues to protest their innocence should be kept live so that if another profile is added to the NDNAD that matches that used in the conviction of the individual, it will be spotted and acted upon. (Paragraph 89)

25.  The police and the Home Office must ensure that they give adequate attention to the access and custodianship arrangements of other national forensic databases and put in place mechanisms for data sharing between suppliers where required. (Paragraph 90)

26.  Increasing the connectivity of different databases, whether at the national or international level, may have significant ethical implications. The Government must take this into account when considering the linking or cross-referencing of forensic databases. (Paragraph 91)

27.  The two largest employers of forensic scientists in the UK are the police and the Forensic Science Service, responsibility for which falls within the remit of the Home Office. It is disappointing that, in view of the concerns expressed to us by the police and the wider forensic science community over standards in forensic science education, the Home Office has taken no action to communicate the existence of these problems to colleagues at DfES. We regret this lack of co-ordination between the Home Office and DfES. (Paragraph 95)

28.  We trust that the Forensic Science Society will take on board the criticisms of major providers of forensic science courses in the further development of its accreditation scheme. (Paragraph 97)

29.  Although we recognise the need for some kind of quality control system to be put in place, the fact that the two main employers in the forensic science sector will not give preferential treatment to graduates of accredited courses somewhat undermines the value of the Forensic Science Society's scheme. Furthermore, it sends out a confusing message to students and may give them the erroneous impression that opting for an accredited course will automatically increase their chances of subsequent employment in the sector. (Paragraph 98)

30.  There is an opportunity to harness the excitement surrounding forensic science to promote interest in science more generally. Academically rigorous and scientifically sound joint honours degrees in forensic science and chemistry, biology etc. could build on the appeal of forensic science while providing students with the analytical skills and scientific background required by employers. These degrees need to be developed in close collaboration with the main employers in order to ensure that graduates would be well qualified for the roles for which these organisations recruit. (Paragraph 100)

31.  We recommend that the Forensic Science Society, SEMTA and the main employers work together with the Royal Society of Chemistry to promote an understanding of the value of chemistry as a route into forensic science. This could be done, for example, through visits into schools by practising forensic scientists. (Paragraph 101)

32.  We welcome the actions taken by ACPO to improve police training in forensic science and urge it to continue, and enhance, these efforts in the future. Forensic science is not just a means of proving someone's guilt or innocence. If used properly, forensic techniques can serve as vital intelligence tools to underpin the entire investigative process. Forensic science has a key role to play in enabling the intelligence-led approach to policing embodied by the National Intelligence Model. It is thus essential that police training in forensic science is delivered within the context of the National Intelligence Model. This should help to ensure that forensic awareness becomes embedded in the wider police force, rather than being confined to those in specialist roles or who have had specific training. (Paragraph 107)

33.  We recommend that the Home Office, ACPO and the Association of Police Authorities ensure that regular seminars are held to keep those Chief Officers with responsibilities for forensic matters in a force up to date and active. (Paragraph 108)

34.  The multiplicity of organisations involved in identifying and disseminating good practice in forensic science to the police is unhelpful and wasteful. We support ACPO's view that there is a need to rationalise the functions of these bodies and recommend that a single organisation be given overall responsibility for co-ordinating best practice in forensic science for the police. This should be done without delay to prevent further duplication of effort and expenditure. (Paragraph 110)

35.  The Forensic Science Advisory Council will be essential for ensuring that the police continue to have access to independent and impartial expert advice on forensic science in a competitive marketplace. (Paragraph 115)

36.  At this time of heightened security, it is unacceptable that so many opportunities to develop technologies that could assist in the battle against crime and terrorism are being squandered due to a lack of information for researchers and poor management of the research process. We recommend that the Home Office, Police Science and Technology Strategy Group and the Research Councils examine ways to resolve this. (Paragraph 123)

37.  The Home Office has published a high level Police Science and Technology Strategy and developed complex vehicles for its delivery. Yet it has singularly failed to engage with the scientists and engineers working in academia whose research is so essential for meeting the objectives identified in the Strategy. (Paragraph 124)

38.  We recommend that the Home Office introduce fast-track grants for moving promising technologies from the proof-of-concept to the market-ready stage. In addition to funding, these grants should incorporate support to expedite the technology transfer process. (Paragraph 125)

39.  It is not possible to predict with any certainty the impact that development as GovCo and possibly as a PPP will have on the amount of R&D undertaken by the FSS. We are concerned that this impact could be negative. Should there be any significant fall in the percentage of R&D conducted by the FSS, the Government may need to introduce incentives to stimulate R&D in this sector. (Paragraph 127)

40.  The IPR that has been developed within the FSS must remain freely available to the police once the FSS becomes a GovCo and potentially a PPP. (Paragraph 129)

41.   The CRFP must itself be subject to regular independent auditing of the assessment processes used to grant accreditation and renewal of accreditation, as well as the disciplinary procedures. It is essential that the CRFP is, and is seen to be, transparent, accountable and independent. It must also be seen to exercise its duty of care by vigorous and appropriate actions in respect of malpractice allegations about registrants. (Paragraph 135)

42.  As the community of registrants grows in an emerging specialism, the problems associated with the small number of possible assessors should diminish. In the meantime, CRFP must take care to monitor the assessment process carefully, if necessary using the services of overseas experts with appropriate experience and expertise. (Paragraph 136)

43.  Providing that the current problems with the Register can be resolved, as the percentage of registered practitioners in the mainstream specialities increases, there will be a strong case for CRFP registration being made mandatory for experts in those specialities presenting evidence to the courts. (Paragraph 139)

44.   The Forensic Science Society should also consider making CRFP registration a condition of membership for active practitioners in order to stimulate uptake of accreditation. (Paragraph 139)

45.  We are disappointed to discover such widespread acknowledgement of the influence that the charisma of the expert can have over a jury's response to their testimony, without proportional concomitant action to address this problem. If key players in the criminal justice system, including the police and experienced expert witnesses, do not have faith in a jury's ability to distinguish between the strength of evidence and the personality of the expert witness presenting it, it is hard to see why anyone else should. There is clearly no easy answer to this problem, but that does not justify the complacent attitude of the CPS. (Paragraph 142)

46.  The training of expert witnesses in the general principles of presentation of evidence to courts and the legal process is essential. For independent forensic practitioners and those who would not otherwise receive such training, the Department for Constitutional Affairs should make funding available to ensure that they do have access to this training in advance of their appearance in court. (Paragraph 144)

47.  There is a need for clear guidelines to be issued setting out the acceptable areas of training for witnesses. These guidelines must also take into account the special status of expert witnesses, as distinct from ordinary witnesses. In addition, the guidelines should clearly differentiate between the roles of experts in the family, civil and criminal courts. (Paragraph 145)

48.  Pre-trial meetings to identify areas of agreement and disagreement between experts must be held as a matter of routine; it is a false economy not to allow enough time for full discussion at this stage. We trust that the Criminal Case Management Framework and Criminal Procedure Rules 2005 will help to ensure that this happens in future but the Judicial Studies Board should ensure that its guidance emphasises the importance of this to the judiciary. (Paragraph 152)

49.  We urge the Legal Services Commission to implement Lord Justice Auld's recommendation to provide for automatic authorisation of funding where a judge is of the view that an expert should be instructed. (Paragraph 156)

50.  We are of the view that there is significant room for improvement in the way that statistical evidence, including risks and probabilities, is presented to juries. In order for this to occur, there needs to be a better understanding of the forms of wording and presentation that are easiest to understand, and least misleading, to members of the general public. We do not make a judgement about which form of wording is most apposite for the presentation of DNA evidence but recommend that the decision be informed by research. (Paragraph 162)

51.  The absence of formal and permanent channels for forensic scientists and experts to give feedback on their courtroom experiences seems to us to represent a serious flaw in the criminal justice system. We recommend that the Home Office establish a forum for Science and the Law, which meets at least every six months. If the recommendation to set up a Forensic Science Advisory Council is adopted, the forum should be subsumed into this body. (Paragraph 163)

52.  Jury research is vital to understand how juries cope with highly complex forensic evidence. Jury research would also be instructive for understanding differences in the way that jurors respond to oral and written reports by experts, and how easy they find interpretation of these reports. We recommend that section 8 of the Contempt of Court Act be amended to permit research into jurors' deliberations. (Paragraph 166)

53.  Advancements in science and technology impact on both the techniques used by criminals and the approaches employed in fighting and detecting crime. It is, therefore, highly likely that the number of cases which depend on complex forensic evidence will increase. This is already happening with regard to digital evidence. The Home Office should undertake research to test whether there would be value in extending the arrangements for complex fraud trials to be tried without a jury to other serious cases that rest on highly complex scientific evidence. This research must also address public attitudes towards this possibility. (Paragraph 167)

54.  Expert witnesses have been penalised far more publicly than the judge or lawyers in cases where expert evidence has been called into question. These cases represent a systems failure. Focussing criticism on the expert has a detrimental effect on the willingness of other experts to serve as witnesses and detracts attention from the flaws in the court process and legal system which, if addressed, could help to prevent future miscarriages of justice. (Paragraph 170)

55.  The absence of an agreed protocol for the validation of scientific techniques prior to their being admitted in court is entirely unsatisfactory. Judges are not well-placed to determine scientific validity without input from scientists. We recommend that one of the first tasks of the Forensic Science Advisory Council be to develop a "gate-keeping" test for expert evidence. This should be done in partnership with judges, scientists and other key players in the criminal justice system, and should build on the US Daubert test. (Paragraph 173)

56.  The stance of the Bar Council, Home Office and CPS that the adversarial system provides sufficient safeguards so as to obviate the need for independent scrutiny of expert evidence is complacent and at odds with the views of the police. (Paragraph 175)

57.  Even if problems are rare, the human cost and damage to public confidence in the criminal justice system caused by the miscarriages of justice associated with flawed expert evidence that have already occurred must be taken into account. Moreover, we believe that steps could be taken that would reduce the potential for such miscarriages of justices to occur. We recommend that a Scientific Review Committee be established within the Criminal Cases Review Commission. This Committee would be charged with handling complaints about expert evidence and, even where there are no grounds for an appeal, should work closely with the main forensic providers and the CRFP to address any problems identified with an expert's conduct. (Paragraph 176)

58.  While we have no particular complaints about the quality of the guidance available to lawyers on the understanding and presentation of forensic evidence, it is of great concern that there is currently no mandatory training for lawyers in this area. In view of the increasingly important role played by DNA and other forensic evidence in criminal investigations, it is wholly inadequate to rely on the interest and self-motivation of the legal profession to take advantage of the training on offer. We recommend that the Bar make a minimum level of training and continuing professional development in forensic evidence compulsory. (Paragraph 180)

59.  We recommend that judges be given an annual update on scientific developments of relevance to the courts. (Paragraph 182)

60.  We recommend that the Home Office issue a consultation on the development of a cadre of lawyers and judges with specialist understanding of specific areas of forensic evidence. An additional benefit to this would be the creation of a small group of judges and prosecution and defence lawyers with the ability and current knowledge to act as mentors to their peers when required. (Paragraph 184)

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