European Scrutiny Committee Contents

6 Accreditation of Forensic Science Laboratories



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Draft Council Framework Decision on the accreditation of forensic science laboratory activities

Explanatory Memorandum

Legal baseArticles 30(1)(c), 30(a), 31 and 34(2)(c) EU; consultation; unanimity
Deposited in Parliament30 June 2009
DepartmentHome Office
Basis of considerationEM of 15 July 2009
Previous Committee ReportNone
To be discussed in CouncilOctober 2009
Committee's assessmentLegally and politically important
Committee's decisionNot cleared; further information requested


6.1 Article 34(2) of the EU Treaty authorises the Council of Ministers, acting on the initiative of either a Member State or the Commission, to adopt legislation on police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters for which Title VI of the EU Treaty provides the legal base. This Framework Decision is proposed by Sweden and Spain.

6.2 ISO/IEC 17025 sets out general requirements for the competence of testing and calibration laboratories. The requirements apply to, for example, the laboratory's quality management system, the competence of the staff and the quality of the equipment. Accreditation of a laboratory to the ISO standard ensures that the methods the laboratory uses are valid, the equipment is appropriate for the method, the staff performing the analysis are competent and the organisation has the capacity to maintain the quality of its results.

The document

6.3 In their explanatory memorandum about the draft Framework Decision, the proposers (Sweden and Spain) say that, with the growth in the volume of information exchanged between Member States for the purposes of police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters, it is becoming increasingly important to ensure that the quality of the data is sufficiently high; this applies as much to forensic evidence as to other data.

6.4 Article 1 says that the measure's objective is to ensure that the results of the laboratory activities in one Member State are recognised as being equivalent to the results of laboratory activities in other Member States. The objective is to be achieved by ensuring that all laboratory activities are accredited to comply with ISO 17025 (see paragraph 6.2 above).

6.5 The draft Framework Decision:

  • applies to "laboratory activities" related to DNA and fingerprints;
  • defines laboratory activities as any measure taken when handling, developing, analysing or interpreting forensic evidence;
  • requires every Member States to ensure that laboratory activities in its area are tested by the national accreditation body for compliance with ISO 17025;
  • requires Member States to comply with the Framework Decision by January 2012; and
  • requires the Commission to make a report on the implementation of the Framework Decision before the beginning of 2014.

The Government's view

6.6 In his Explanatory Memorandum of 15 July 2009, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Home Office (Mr Alan Campbell) tells us that the commercial forensic science laboratories in England and Wales and Forensic Science Northern Ireland are already accredited to ISO 17025. The Scottish Police Service Authority is accredited for DNA analysis and has applied for accreditation for fingerprint analysis. In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, the police forces are responsible for most of the work on fingerprints and are not accredited to ISO 17025.

6.7 The Minister tells us that the Association of Chief Police Officers broadly accepts the need for accreditation but has reservations about the additional cost to police forces.

6.8 The Minister also says that the Government supports the proposed use of the ISO for DNA and fingerprint evidence. He adds, however that the Government:

"will take care to ensure that these provisions do not require the UK to accept the results of laboratory activities carried out in other Member States to be recognised as admissible for evidential purposes in UK courts […]."[17]


6.9 Article 30(a) and 31 of the EU Treaty are cited as legal bases for the Framework Decision. We question this because the Treaty does not contain an Article 30(a) and because Article 31 goes far wider than the provisions of the draft Decision. Article 31 covers judicial cooperation for purposes such as extradition and preventing conflicts of jurisdiction and it requires the Council to encourage cooperation through Eurojust.

6.10 Article 1 of the draft Framework Decision clearly states the objective of the measure: mutual recognition by all Member States of forensic evidence about DNA and fingerprints emanating from laboratories which have been accredited to ISO 17025 wherever they are located in the EU. The Minister says that the Government supports the use of ISO 17025 but also says that it will ensure that the requirements for mutual recognition will not apply in the UK. We do not understand why the Government appears to oppose the objective of the Framework Decision. We also wonder whether the measure would be consistent with the principle of subsidiarity if, as the Government appears to wish, it did no more than require Member States to ensure that the relevant laboratory activities comply with ISO 17025.

6.11 We should be grateful for the Minister's comments on these points. Pending his reply, we shall keep the document under scrutiny.

17   Minister's Explanatory Memorandum, paragraph 21. Back

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