Forensic Science Service

Written evidence submitted by the Forensic Science Regulator
(FSS 76)

Written evidence submission addressing the question:

What will be the implications of the closure on the quality and impartiality of forensic evidence used in the criminal justice system?


1. The post of Forensic Science Regulator was created in February 2008 when I was appointed through the public appointments process to:

· Establish and monitor compliance with quality standards in the provision of forensic science services to the police service and the wider criminal justice system.

· Ensure the accreditation of those supplying forensic science services to the police, including in-house police services and forensic suppliers to the wider criminal justice system.

· Set and monitor compliance with quality standards applying to national forensic science intelligence databases, beginning with the National DNA Database (NDNAD)® and the National Ballistics Intelligence Service and extending to others as they arise [1] .

· Provide advice to Ministers, criminal justice system organisations, suppliers and others as seems appropriate, on matters related to quality standards in forensic.

2. Prior to this quality standards were managed through an ad hoc mix of accreditation against an international laboratory standard (ISO/IEC 17025) for the government and commercial laboratories, registration of some forensic science practitioners with the Council for the Registration of Forensic Practitioners (CRFP), and use of certification against the ISO 9001 quality management standard for police use of fingerprint methods. None of these processes were coordinated or worked to any overarching strategy.

3. Quality standards for forensic pathology were established in 2004 in Home Office and Royal College of Pathologists published standards.

4. I am now recommending a new and coherent quality standards framework based on accreditation for all laboratory functions. In July 2010 I published for consultation Codes of Practice and Conduct, the final Codes are expected to be published in February 2011.


5. Accreditation of the non-police laboratories through assessment by the United Kingdom Accreditation Service (UKAS) against ISO/IEC 17025 started in 1995, led by the Forensic Science Service which was then the monopoly supplier of forensic science laboratory services to the police. All the main laboratories are now accredited with some small laboratories that have recently joined the police procurement framework seeking accreditation and some independent digital (computer and telephone) forensics laboratories now accredited or seeking accreditation.

6. The Metropolitan Police Service achieved accreditation earlier this year for an in-house trace evidence recovery laboratory and plan to get all their in-house laboratory functions accredited within the next three years. Derbyshire Police are working through the final stages of accreditation and the police National Ballistic Intelligence Service laboratories in West Midlands Police and Greater Manchester Police are in the final assessment stages. The roll out of accreditation to other police force laboratories is subject to planning and oversight by the Forensics 21 Programme Board and coordinated by the NPIA.

7. I have written a series of letters to the NPIA and ACPO leads on forensic science since September 2009 setting out a requirement for the police in-house laboratories to work to the same standards as the commercial laboratories. This has resulted in some helpful exploratory work by the NPIA and plans for the coordinated roll out of accreditation across all police forces. The NPIA are also working on harmonising methods and assisting with the development of standard operating procedures.

8. In November 2009 the EU Council agreed a Framework Decision requiring all DNA and fingerprint laboratories (whether they be government, commercial or police laboratories) to be accredited against the ISO/IEC 17025 standard by 2013 and 2105 respectively. All the UK laboratories undertaking forensic DNA analysis for the police currently comply with this accreditation requirement. The initial focus for police forces is on their fingerprint enhancement laboratories in order to achieve compliance with the Framework Decision, some forces already wish to include wider laboratory functions; detailed guidance for police laboratories is in draft form and will be agreed between me and the NPIA within the next four weeks.

9. Assessment of an organisation against ISO/IEC 17025 is undertaken by UKAS to provide an independent, objective and detailed assessment covering a broad range of issues including: evidence of organisational competence in terms of quality management (the management system requirements in ISO/IEC 17025 meet the principles of ISO 9001:2000 Quality Management Systems - Requirements and are aligned with its pertinent requirements), evidence of the competence of all the individual practitioners employed by the organisation (achieved through examination of training records, interviews with staff and observations of staff at work in the laboratories), and evidence that the methods used in the laboratory are properly validated and are being used appropriately.

10. An important and fourth aspect of accreditation is a requirement to see evidence that a laboratory’s work and results are free from undue influence or pressure from customers or other interested parties, also that laboratories working within larger organisations where influence could be applied (such as police laboratories), are free from such influence and are producing objective and valid results.

11. Evidence of impartiality and validity of results sit alongside evidence of organisational competence, individual practitioner competence and validity of methods as the cornerstones of my forensic science quality standards framework, which for the laboratories is underpinned by ongoing (annual) independent assessments by UKAS.

12. The Forensic Science Service is accredited by UKAS across the broad range of services it supplies to the police and other users of forensic science. There is a risk to quality and impartiality if that work is moved from an accredited quality focused environment to one lacking such standards. I have written to the police lead on the transition of work and to the Home Office FSS Transition Board (of which I am a member) pointing out these risks and making it clear that packages of work should only be moved following an assessment of risks to quality and impartiality in each case. It is an unacceptable risk to move work to a non-accredited environment, but with varying and possibly manageable levels of risk if work is taken on by an accredited laboratory but possibly without some items of work within its scope of accreditation. However, there will have to be an agreed action plan to achieve the required extension of scope to bring the work within the accreditation for that laboratory.   

Council for the Registration of Forensic Practitioners (CRFP)

13. Practitioner registration was accepted by the government in 1998 as a method of regulation with practitioners across the board (crime scene investigators, scientists, forensic medical experts and others) offered a voluntary competence based registration scheme. CRFP was initially funded by the Home Office and expected to achieve self funding by registering some 10,000 practitioners. By 2004 CRFP had registered 1,800 practitioners and sought further government support, which was agreed but set to finish in 2010.

14. By March 2008 CRFP had registered 3,000 practitioners and approached me for support to require registration across the board. They also wrote to the Home Office seeking funding beyond 2010. Meg Hillier MP (then Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Home Department) referred the request to me for a review of practitioner registration which I published in March 2009. I recommended that accreditation, in most circumstances, provided a far better standards framework. The net result was that ACPO support for CRFP was withdrawn along with the annual police subscriptions of £350,000; CRFP ceased trading in March 2009 (having been established as a company limited by guarantee). Government funding for CRFP had by then transferred to the NPIA which took the decision to remove all further grant-in aid.

15. Historically, criticism of forensic science quality failings focused on individual practitioners. This focus, and the registration process, failed to regulate accountability for quality at the organisational level.

16. In early 2008 the Office for Criminal Justice Reform considered problems in the criminal justice system with expert witnesses. The result was recommendations, agreed by Ministers, that a solution was not a register. The matter was referred to the Law Commission which has published a consultation paper and is close to publishing a final report and draft legislation on the admissibility of expert evidence.


17. In 1995 ACPO took the decision to establish a quality management framework for fingerprint methods based on certification against ISO 9001 and mandated a single approach across all police forces. The EU Council Framework Decision in November 2009 requires that the fingerprint enhancement laboratories become accredited under ISO 17025, I am using this and the expected publication later this year of the Scottish Fingerprint Inquiry as the catalysts for changes to the quality standards framework for all fingerprints methods. I have a group of experts advising on this and expect to recommend an accreditation based standards framework.

18. The Scottish Fingerprint Inquiry report and recommendations will be the result of a detailed and independent review of fingerprint methods, the results of which will have global implications for the quality standards that should underpin the use of fingerprint evidence. I gave evidence to the Inquiry.

Forensic Pathology

19. Forensic pathology standards were published as a code of practice by the Home Office and Royal College of Pathologists in 2004; forensic post mortems are expected to be conducted by a pathologist on the Home Office Register of forensic pathologists, who comply with the code.

20. The code has recently been updated through a specialist group set up by me. Alongside this, new forensic mortuary standards have been drafted; both are soon to be published and will be agreed with the Royal College of Pathologists.

Codes of Practice and Conduct

21. The Codes of Practice and Conduct for Forensic Science Providers and Practitioners in the Criminal Justice System were published by me for consultation at the end of July 2010. They are the result of considerable stakeholder consultation and involvement, and form the basis of a new quality standards framework bringing all regulation and guidance into a single document, with a single compliance mechanism through accreditation, initially for the laboratory services but with work in hand to test new accreditation standards for crime scene investigations.

22. Coordination is also ongoing with specialist areas of forensic science, such as forensic archaeology, to produce new standards and guidance, where possible in collaboration with professional bodies such as the Institute for Archaeology.

23. Legislation

24. Discussions at the Forensic Science Advisory Council have led to agreements that compliance with the Codes should be based on a mandatory but non-statutory requirement enforced through police contracts, agreements with ACPO and gate keeping functions by the Crown Prosecution Service.

25. It is a common and often repeated assertion that compliance with the Codes should become a statutory requirement, to do so has not been necessary to date but is kept under review to be referred to Ministers should it become so.

26. Work to adopt the Codes will carry on in the absence of any underpinning legislation.

International collaboration

27. Modern forensic science methods are global in nature and more and more so are a result of collaborative work between laboratories and universities around the world. This is particularly relevant across Europe with the recent introduction of European regulations for some forensic science laboratories.

28. Across Europe, forensic science quality standards are of principal interest to the European Network of Forensic Science Institutes (ENFSI). I have had meetings with the ENFSI Board and agreed to develop a joint strategy. Progress on the joint agreement has become delayed but in the meantime my staff attend regular ENFSI meetings, not as full voting members but welcomed as guests at any meetings we wish to attend.

29. I am an invited guest at the European DNA Profiling Group (EDNAP) meetings and the international society of forensic genetics (ISFG) meetings, which my lead DNA expert always attends

30. The accreditation model I have developed is not dissimilar to that already employed for forensic science at Australian federal and state levels, and interestingly is also similar to that proposed in a new Bill in the US Congress to ensure consistency and scientific validity in forensic testing. The US Bill sets some interesting requirements for coordinated research strategies.

31. I have had several productive meetings with my counterpart in Australia, Mr Alastair Ross at the National Institute for Forensic Science. We have signed an agreement to collaborate when and where we can on developing quality standards and on influencing research. Mr Ross and I are planning a meeting in April this year with the US National Institute of Justice to explore opportunities for further international collaboration. Finally, I have had meetings with the Director of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation forensic science laboratory, Dr Chris Hassell. Dr Hassell and I are to meet again in March to also discuss collaboration on developing standards.


32. I am delighted to be able to support Professor Bernard Silverman in his review of research and development in forensic science. Current research and development in this field goes far beyond that provided by the Forensic Science Service.

Andrew Rennison

Forensic Science Regulator

14 February 2011

[1] The National DNA Database is a registered trademark owned by the Secretary of State for the Home Department