1 Background |
1. Forensic science is integral to the criminal
justice system and often plays a key role in providing evidence
throughout criminal proceedings. On 14 December 2010, the Home
Office announced that the Government-owned Forensic Science Service
(FSS), then delivering around 60% of forensic services to police
forces in England and Wales, would be wound down. The statement,
which we set out in full, outlined the Government's decision and
The Forensic Science Service (FSS) was an executive
agency which was granted trading fund status in 1999, a step designed
to increase its financial flexibility. Then, following the McFarland
Review in 2002, FSS Ltd was established as a GovCo, wholly owned
by the government, in December 2005. The intention was that this
be a transitional step towards a 'public private partnership'.
In the event, however, no further progress was made.
This lack of progress has led in our view to opportunities for
reform being missed, and continuing reductions in the value of
publicly owned assets.
The previous government did not reform the Forensic
Science Service when it had the chance, and instead allowed it
to maintain a cost base far higher than its commercial rivals.
This meant that FSS continued operating uncompetitive terms and
conditions and expanded its employment levels between 1999 and
2003. This was undertaken without bringing down the cost base
towards a level where FSS would be able to compete.
Commercial rivals, many established by former FSS
members of staff, have taken market share from the former state
FSS was set up as a GovCo, with an £18million
loan in December 2005. The company has met interest payments on
this loan but cannot afford to repay the principal amount borrowed.
The previous government supported the company with
a further £50 million grant from early 2009 to restructure
Despite this intervention and the commitment of the
current management team, the current challenging forensics market
has put the FSS back into serious financial difficulty. FSS is
currently making operating losses of around £2 million per
month. Its cash is due to run out as early as January next year.
It is vital that we take clear and decisive action to sort this
out. The police have advised us that their spend on external forensic
suppliers will continue to fall over the next few years, as forces
seek to maximise efficiencies in this area. HMIC [Her Majesty's
Inspectorate of Constabulary] concur with this assessment.
We have therefore decided to support the wind-down
of FSS, transferring or selling off as much of its operations
as possible. We will work with FSS management and staff, ACPO
(Association of Chief Police Officers), and other suppliers to
ensure an orderly transition, but our firm ambition is that there
will be no continuing state interest in a forensics provider by
There is no justification for the uncertainty and
costs of trying to restructure and retain the business.
We will ensure the orderly wind-down of FSS does
not impact on police service customers or the wider criminal justice
system. With ACPO, we will put in place a central team to ensure
work is transferred in a controlled way and that arrangement are
put in place to ensure security of supply in future. The continued
provision of effective forensics is our priority.
We know that there are real challenges ahead for
FSS staff whose skills and contribution will be important as we
move through the transition. We will be working hard with the
company to ensure that staff are kept fully informed of developments.
We will also be working with ACPO to seek to maximise
the level of competition in the market including through opportunities
created by FSS leaving the field. This will help to ensure that
police forces benefit from cost effective use of forensics.
We want to see the UK forensic science industry operating
as a genuine market, with private sector providers competing to
provide innovative services at the lowest cost. This will preserve
police resources and maximise the positive impact forensic sciences
can have on tackling crime. A competitive market can help to drive
down prices and improve turnaround times, meaning serious crimes
can be cleared up more quickly and efficiently. Ultimately, that
is what everyone in the criminal justice system wants to see.
2. The decision was greeted with dismay by employees
of the FSS, eminent forensic scientists from around the world
and some Members of Parliament.
Therefore we decided to hold an inquiry into the proposed wind-down
of the FSS and issued a call for evidence on 19 January 2010.
The terms of reference asked:
a) What will be the impact of the closure of
the Forensic Science Service on forensic science and on the future
development of forensic science in the UK?
b) What will be the implications of the closure
on the quality and impartiality of forensic evidence used in the
criminal justice system?
c) What is the financial position of the Forensic
d) What is the state of, and prospects for, the
forensics market in the UK, specifically whether the private sector
can carry out the work currently done by the Forensic Science
Service and the volume and nature of the forensic work carried
out by police forces?
e) What are the alternatives to winding-down
the Forensic Science Service?
f) So far as they are known, are the arrangements
for closing down the Forensic Science Service, making staff redundant
and selling its assets adequate?
3. The Committee received around 100 written
4. We took oral evidence from five panels of
witnesses over three evidence sessions. On 23 March we took evidence
from FSS senior management and a trade union representing some
of its staff: Bill Griffiths, Chairman, FSS; Dr Gill Tully, Research
and Development Manager, FSS; and Steve Thomas, Officer for the
FSS, Prospect Union.
5. On 30 March we took evidence from two panels
of witnesses. The first included academics and private forensic
science providers: Sir Alec Jeffreys, Professor of Genetics, University
of Leicester; Professor Jim Fraser, Director, Centre for Forensic
Science, Strathclyde University; David Hartshorne, Commercial
Director, Orchid Cellmark Ltd; and David Richardson, Chief Executive,
LGC Forensics. This was followed by a second panel from the policing
and criminal justice sector, including: Roger Coe-Salazar, Chief
Crown Prosecutor, Crown Prosecution Service; Gary Pugh, Director
of Forensic Services, Metropolitan Police Service; Chief Constable
Chris Sims, Association of Chief Police Officers; and Dr Simon
Bramble, Head of Police Science and Forensics, National Policing
6. Last, we took evidence on 27 April, first
from Professor Bernard Silverman, Chief Scientific Adviser, Home
Office; and Andrew Rennison, Forensic Science Regulator, followed
by a final panel with James Brokenshire MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary
of State for Crime Prevention, Home Office, and Dr Stephen Webb,
Director of Finance and Strategy, Crime and Policing Group, Home
7. We would like to thank those who provided
written and oral evidence to this inquiry. In addition we extend
our gratitude to the FSS and LGC Forensics for accommodating us
on visits conducted as part of our inquiry. Our particular thanks
are extended to the FSS employees who wrote to us and met with
us during our visit to discuss issues that have clearly been a
source of personal and professional distress.
8. The main body of our report is split into
three main chapters: the forensics market, alternative forensic
science providers (FSPs) and forensic science research and development
(R&D). In the final chapter we bring together the various
strands to make our final conclusions on the future of the FSS.
What is forensic science?
9. Broadly speaking, forensic science is science
that is used for the purposes of the law
or "that appertains to the courts".
Forensic science encompasses a range of disciplines, and although
forensic scientists typically analyse DNA, hair, fibres, footwear,
firearms, drugs and human bodies,
there are novel disciplines, such as the analysis of computer
hard drives for material. In this inquiry we have not sought to
define the scientific disciplines that constitute forensic science,
instead focusing on the work of the FSS and its competitors.
10. When it has been ascertained that a crime
or incident has occurred, evidence is recovered from the crime
scene, suspects, witnesses and victims. Some or all of the evidence
may be submitted, usually by the police, for forensic testing
and analysis. The forensic scientist conducts tests and interprets
the results. The forensic scientist prepares a witness statement
and passes it to the police, who decide what further action to
take, if any. If the case is taken to court, the witness statement
is either read out or the forensic scientist appears as an expert
witness in court. Forensic
evidence can be used by the defence as well as the prosecution.
11. The Crown Prosecution Service, the Government
Department responsible for prosecuting criminal cases investigated
by the police in England and Wales,
summarised the importance of forensic science:
Forensic science plays an important part in the investigation
and prosecution of an increasing number of criminal offences.
It is used from the very outset of an investigation at a crime
scene through to the evidence relied upon in a criminal trial.
Forensic evidence can be crucial in a wide range of cases ranging
from the analysis of the blood of a motorist suspected of driving
whilst under the influence of drink or drugs, through to serial
murders and rapes. [...]
Forensic evidence can bring huge benefits to the
criminal justice system by narrowing the issues to be tried in
a case or encouraging an early guilty plea.
12. Forensic evidence may also be used in other
ways. In cold cases (crimes that are unsolved where the trail
has gone "cold"), forensic evidence may be re-analysed,
often years later using new forensic techniques, to provide a
new lead. High profile case studies include the 2006 conviction
of James Lloyd, the "shoe rapist", for a series of rapes
in the 1980s, using the FSS's familial searching technique.
Forensic evidence can also be used post-conviction to investigate
potential miscarriages of justice. Such reviews are often enabled
by the development of new analytical techniques.
1 HC Deb, 14 December 2010, cols 94-96WS Back
"Closure of forensic service puts justice at risk",
The Times, Letters to the Editor, 28 December 2010 Back
For example, Early Day Motion (2010-12) no. 1353, Future of
the Forensic Science Service, tabled 26 January 2011, had
56 signatures as of 9 June 2011. Back
Science and Technology Committee, Seventh Report of Session 2004-05,
Forensic Science on Trial, HC 96-I, para 4 Back
Home Office, Review of the Forensic Science Service: a report,
17 July 2003, para 2.1 Back
HC (2004-05) 96-I, para 4 Back
HC (2004-05) 96-I, Table 2, p 11 Back
"Introduction", The Crown Prosecution Service website,
Ev 99, paras 3-6 Back
"Cold case review: James Lloyd (the shoe rapist) - South
Yorkshire Police", The Forensic Science Service website,