To be published as HC 930-iii

House of COMMONS





Wednesday 13 February 2013

Karen Squibb-Williams MA, Michael Turner QC and Richard Atkinson

Evidence heard in Public Questions 164 - 232



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Oral Evidence

Taken before the Science and Technology Committee

on Wednesday 13 February 2013

Members present:

Andrew Miller (Chair)

Jim Dowd

Stephen Metcalfe

Pamela Nash

Sarah Newton

David Tredinnick


Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Karen Squibb-Williams, Strategic Policy Adviser, Crown Prosecution Service, Michael Turner QC, Chairman, Criminal Bar Association, and Richard Atkinson, Chair of Criminal Law Committee, Law Society, gave evidence.

Q164 Chair: Can I welcome the panel members in this morning? Thank you for coming. As you know, we are following up our previous report on the closure of the FSS. Thus far we have taken evidence from a wide range of people, and one or two bits of confusion have arisen. Hopefully, this morning can help us clear some of that up, particularly on what is happening inside the justice system in its broadest sense. Welcome to the panel. Perhaps you would be kind enough to introduce yourselves for the record.

Richard Atkinson: I am Richard Atkinson. I am chair of the Law Society’s Criminal Law Committee.

Karen Squibb-Williams: I am Karen Squibb-Williams. I am the strategic policy adviser for CPS headquarters on forensic science and expert witnesses.

Michael Turner: I am Michael Turner, Queen’s counsel. I am chair of the Criminal Bar Association.

Q165 Chair: Thank you very much indeed. Could you, first of all, briefly explain your experience on handling forensic science and evidence provided by expert forensic people in a courtroom situation?

Richard Atkinson: From a defence perspective, initially, we will receive the Crown’s case, which will include some forensic evidence. There will then be issues about whether or not that is contested and what the issues in the case are.

So far as specific areas of forensic science are concerned, they are wide-ranging, dealing with alcohol and blood analysis in drink-driving cases; DNA analysis, which is clearly relevant to identification of the person involved in a lot of sexual offences; blood distribution in cases of assault and fatal assaults where there has been a stabbing and blood patterns are distributed; and fingerprints still form a significant part of many cases.

On wider areas, there is firearms identification of whether a weapon is a firearm; fibres that are transferred from defendant to scene and vice versa; and footwear patterns. In a case I was involved in, a trainer had quite a specific print and it was relevant to try and determine how unusual that specific print was in relation to identification issues of the defendant being the perpetrator. There are glass fragments from scenes. I have been involved in an armed robbery case recently where cases were smashed in a jewellers and there was a transference of glass, and questions arose as to whether that glass had come from the scene or whether it was from some other area. Computers now dominate almost every case. Cell site evidence and mobile phone records are also hugely prevalent. So a vast amount of forensic evidence is relied upon. In the vast majority of cases, and certainly nearly all serious cases, forensic science plays a part.

Karen Squibb-Williams: I have held this post with CPS headquarters for some nine years now. As national policy lead for forensic science, I come into contact with the entire spectrum of science, including novel science and traditional science-the whole range. It is my task to look at how best to integrate the strengths and weaknesses, where appropriate, of science into prosecution policy. Over that time, it has involved every type of science for every type of crime. As well as assisting in producing the policy, I take many national queries operationally as to live cases going on throughout the country.

Michael Turner: I have been at the criminal Bar for over 30 years. I have been a Queen’s counsel since 2002. There is probably not an area of expert evidence that I have not come across. One of my specialities at the moment is to do a number of so-called baby-shaking cases, which you will have seen in the press. The science involved in those cases is incredibly contentious. I see those cases on a daily basis.

Q166 Chair: I realise from the example you have just given that the science is sometimes very unclear, but, generally speaking, what sort of weight do the courts give to forensic evidence?

Michael Turner: In the example I have given of baby-shaking cases, all the evidence is scientific. On the one side, you have the prosecution scientists, who are saying, "This child has suffered an abusive head injury", and then, to counter that, on the other side, you have the defence experts, who say, "Actually, no, we don’t think that is how this injury came about." Using that type of case as an example, it is all on the experts.

In a murder case, for instance, where you simply have a forensic pathologist who is opining as to the cause of death, you do not necessarily get the weight put on that because you have a jury and they are going to be looking at other factors, which may point them in a different direction. My experience of the way juries approach it is that they look at experts as merely part of the evidence, unless you are in a case where science is all.

Richard Atkinson: I would agree with that. One area where enormous weight is placed on it is the area of DNA evidence where identification is in dispute. I have dealt with a number of stranger-rape cases, for example, and the DNA evidence is considered enormously strong, if not determinative, of the issue.

Karen Squibb-Williams: Chair, I have made some notes and managed only to retain them on my computer. Do you mind if I refer to some of the comments I have made because I considered this point in some detail?

Chair: Not at all.

Karen Squibb-Williams: In my view, of course, it depends on the nature of the science and the cogency of any interpretation given to subsequent analysis of that science. It is not just a matter of, "Here is the science." It is how the interpretation is put together. Of course, forensic science and forensic evidence is, inevitably, a very important element in the factual matrix of each case. Where science is used as the key plank in the prosecution case, such as to prove the identity of a perpetrator, that evidence is often hotly contested, though, of course, very compelling. As a result, we find that juries tend to attach significant weight to that type of scientific evidence. However, where the science is used in a more contextual manner, such as to support the prosecution or defence version of events, this is, generally, a more diffuse type of evidence. The weight that the jury will apply to that will be more subjective, probably, and perhaps a little more individual. In all cases, of course, we need to remember that the nature and presentation of the science will be a matter for the judge to decide against widely accepted standards and criteria. Those are the points I wanted to get across in relation to that.

Q167 Chair: In a sense, stemming from that, one challenge that we are examining in terms of the closure of the FSS is, for example, the fact that samples may not have such a clear audit trail as they would have had in having a centralised service. Do you have any views on the impact of the closure of the FSS?

Karen Squibb-Williams: As an organisation, the concern of the CPS is to ensure that we get the best evidence that is most fit for use in prosecution. You started your question with a reference to the potential that there is a weakness in the audit trail of samples. If anything, what we have seen since the closure of the FSS is a greater focus on improvements within the continuity of samples.

Q168 Chair: Can I stop you there and push you a bit harder on that? We have heard evidence about samples going off to a third-party laboratory and then parts of the testing being subcontracted further down the trail.

Karen Squibb-Williams: Yes.

Q169 Chair: That did not happen before. Surely, that does present a risk.

Karen Squibb-Williams: It did not happen to the extent that, of course, now it does happen. It did happen in part from, say, the early 2000s, and it certainly increased after 2005, when the FSS was made into a Government-owned company. It does not necessarily follow that there are continuity problems with that. If anything, because of the competitive marketplace, there has been a tightening of continuity processes. We, at head office, certainly have not had any concerns in relation to that issue. It may be that there is more of a police difficulty with it, but once material comes through to the prosecution we have not seen evidence of that being a greater problem.

Michael Turner: That is not my experience, I have to say, or the experience of my members.

Karen Squibb-Williams: Of whom I am one.

Michael Turner: They are reporting to me that there is a problem with continuity and are bringing to my attention a number of examples.

In relation to the more general question that you asked of the impact of the FSS going-I am exclusively a defence barrister-in terms of the experts who are being relied on by the Crown, I am noticing that they are increasingly variable in terms of the evidence that they give. That has a tendency to mislead the Crown.

I will give you one specific example of this, which is a case that you will have all heard about, I am sure. It was a triple murder case arising out of the Birmingham riots. That case was put as a conspiracy between eight people and three cars. That was principally based on a video expert, who had said that she was able to identify the three individual cars in tandem going around the area for a space of two hours. That was a key part of the prosecution’s evidence and one of the key reasons why the case was taken. By the end of the case, we had established that every single sighting that she had made was erroneous. We were able to prove that it was not the car that she said it was, because that car was spotted on an ANPR camera five miles away, or the car that she said was an Audi hatchback was not in fact an Audi hatchback when you went back one frame because it had a boot, and all this kind of thing. That was an example of a prosecution that had been very much influenced by one scientist and what she had to say, and in fact it was completely destroyed by the end of the day, which was but one of the reasons for the acquittals in that case. It was an example.

What we fear in terms of the prosecution cases is that the science is not necessarily as rigorous as it was. Certainly that is what prosecutors are reporting to me. It is not just the calling of a woolly scientist by the prosecution. It is wanting a scientist, for instance, to say, "There is nothing in this point. It is not a good point to take."

Q170 Chair: What has that got to do with the closure of the FSS? Is that not a problem that one would come across anyway if you do not have the right level of expertise in the court?

Michael Turner: Yes and no. Where you had a dedicated forensic science service, they were not fighting for their next piece of work. Therefore, they had no fears about who they pleased or who they did not; it was pure science. Now the fear is that you have people who want the next job, as it were, from the police force, so there is a fear, as a result of the closure of the FSS, that they will say what they think their paymasters want them to say. That is the fear that is being expressed to me.

Interestingly enough, I do not think that that is such a great fear on the defence side. Many of you will think, "Well, hang on. Why not?" That is because both defence solicitors and defence barristers are very wary of this. One of the things we have very much in mind is that we do not want to call a scientist who is just there to please us because that is going to affect the outcome so far as our client is concerned. We know that, if we do have a scientist like that, we will test them very rigorously because we know that they will be absolutely destroyed once they get into court. That is certainly the fear that is being expressed to me.

Richard Atkinson: I do not wish to add anything to that which has been said.

Karen Squibb-Williams: I have enormous respect for the scientific community, with which I have worked for a long time, as well as being a barrister myself, who has prosecuted and defended in my time. What I have seen as an individual and on behalf of the CPS is that scientists demonstrate the greatest level of professional integrity. It is extremely rare, in my experience, to have seen a scientist who totally disregards their duty to the court, which every expert is obliged to comply with. Because we have a commercial market and the commercial provision of forensic science, it is a little bit too easy to suggest that they are, therefore, purely driven by their paymasters. The scientists and practitioners whom I come into regular contact with hold their professional integrity in very high regard and I see evidence of that playing out in how they do their business for us.

Q171 Stephen Metcalfe: I wanted to go back to the point that both of you made about the paymaster leading the results of the science. The FSS was also competing in a market for six years prior to its closure. Did you see that change start to happen when it became a GovCo, or did it keep its original ethos even though it was competing in a market?

Michael Turner: In my experience, it kept its original ethos. The ethos within the FSS was very strong. I did not see any diminution of those principles when it went for that period of time. I am trying to think back. I suppose I had three or four cases in that period where the FSS actually worked for the defence, but there were not that many.

Q172 Sarah Newton: I would like to carry on with this whole theme about the quality of the forensic science available both to prosecutors and defenders. We had some quite disturbing evidence last week from providers of forensic services, Forensic Access and also Manlove Forensics, and it was the opposite of your point. They were far more concerned about the variability in the quality of forensic science available to the defence case rather than the prosecution. They suggested to us-I have a direct quote in front of me-that "forensic advice for defence teams provides a critical safety net against miscarriages of justice, but this is full of holes through long term and worsening lack of funding". Would you like to comment on that?

Michael Turner: Certainly. One of the problems that are experienced at the moment by the defence community is obtaining legal aid to instruct the appropriate expert. That is one problem. It is a big fight for solicitors, and often for barristers, to persuade the court to give the necessary legal aid, even if you have science on the prosecution side. That is one real problem.

The second problem is the knowledge that people have in relation to where to go to find the expertise. In the example of the baby-shaking world that I am talking about, a lot of people who embark on those cases simply don’t know who to go to. They do exist, but there is considerable ignorance about who to go to. Part of it is publicising who to go to.

The other problem is that you get scientists in that world who, because they are attacked by other scientists, say, "We don’t want to do it any more. We are quite happy staying in our hospital and we don’t want to give evidence in a criminal court or, indeed, the family court, because when we do other scientists are very nasty about us." There are those problems as I perceive them.

Karen Squibb-Williams: It is very important to recognise the significant changes, reforms and extra bits in the toolkit that have been developed over the past eight or so years. I am thinking of two developments in particular that have been largely alongside the closure of the FSS on one level. I am referring to the development of the Forensic Science Regulator’s office. That is dedicated to ensuring that there is a clear vision of quality standards across the piece, regardless of prosecution or defence. The development of that office came out of this Committee’s last review back in 2005 "Forensic Science on Trial". The post was taken up in 2008, and there has been a great deal of improvement in at least setting standards and setting a piece of work and information where the required standards are able to be looked at, referred to and are accessible to all. Predominantly, they cover forensic science as opposed to medical experts, who perhaps Michael is referring to more.

The second element of reform that I think is absolutely essential to see how it has assisted the changes that have gone on in forensic provision in the last eight years is the Criminal Procedure Rules. I hate to sound like a techie lawyer, but the Criminal Procedure Rules are a very practical process through which, if you work with your expert scientific evidence in strict compliance with the requirements of the Criminal Procedure Rules, you get away from a lot of the difficulties which, perhaps, Michael has experienced in his time, where the problem arrives in court and you have to try and deal with it in front of the judge or jury. The Criminal Procedure Rules-the CPR-require you to case-manage cases far better these days. For example, two key elements in that play very helpfully into the needs of science, particularly now that we are in a commercialised world. The first is rule 3, which requires an early identification of the issues, which has to be the defence issues that they take with the case. On the back of that, you can then develop a timetable around the provision of further science in order to unpack what the defence issues are.

The second key element of that is rule 33.5 of the Criminal Procedure Rules. These have been around for six, seven or eight years, since 2005. Rule 33.5 provides for a pre-trial meeting of the experts where some of the damage that Michael has seen in his experience that has clearly and undeniably been done to experts, particularly in the shaken baby field, can be mitigated, because, in real life, as opposed to the adversarial environment of the courtroom, if you put experts in the same field in a room together, there is a greater likelihood of a larger nucleus of agreement around their evidence. The whole point of proper compliance with the Criminal Procedure Rules is that you go to trial on the real issues, not a very difficult debate between scientists where the argument becomes more and more complex and, perhaps, creates a more and more distant gap between them and the jury. I would urge that we focus on some of these provisions that are now in our toolkit to help minimise some of the harm, risks and concerns of commercialising such an important evidence-type as forensic science. We have got these, but we just need to use them a bit more.

Michael Turner: I would endorse that. What Karen has said is right. The rules exist. Unfortunately, they are not being used in the way that they should, very often. That is the problem. Karen set out for you how the rules could be used properly. I wish I could say, honestly, that they were being done so in the courtroom on a daily basis.

Q173 Sarah Newton: Can I follow up on that? Why not? What could be done to enable that to happen?

Michael Turner: It has to be judicial-led encouragement. Judicial scrutiny will help this. This is part of a wider problem. It is not only the Criminal Procedure Rules; it is disclosure. There are loads of things about disclosure. The disclosure system is virtually broken in our courtrooms now. Why? There are a huge number of reasons why that is happening. All of it, basically, comes down to a lack of money within the system.

Karen Squibb-Williams: On top of that, what we are looking at is a change of culture. We all know that culture takes a very long time to change, particularly in intense and focused professions such as the law and science. The key cultural change that revolves around the Criminal Procedure Rules is that it is for the defence to identify the issues that they take with the Crown’s case very much earlier on in the process. Traditionally and historically-Richard will probably comment on this-the defence response to the Crown’s case either comes at a very late stage in terms of service of their defence statement under the Criminal Procedure and Investigations Act-CPIA-or it comes at trial itself, whereas the Criminal Procedure Rules enable this to be done much sooner in the process. There are still proper protections for a defendant’s rights to a fair trial and so forth, but the change of culture in requiring defence identification early on is hard for prosecutors because they are not used to the defence doing it, and it is hard for the defence because they are not used to doing it, and the judiciary, as Michael quite rightly said, needs to drive the focus on making this process work. So it is a real team effort that is required.

Richard Atkinson: I would like to pick up on a number of points that my colleagues have made. As my memory is so short, I will start with the last point. As far as the Criminal Procedure Rules are concerned, Michael’s experience, geographically, is much wider than mine. I practise in a more local area, but certainly experience shows with expert evidence that judges are sticking to the Criminal Procedure Rules. They are requiring timetables and schedules of disagreement; and this is happening. The culture change that has been discussed is not quite as distant as perhaps was portrayed. There may be areas in the country where it is, but it is certainly happening.

As for the speed of defence notification, I bristle slightly and smile to my friend because the defence are reactive to the evidence that is served by the Crown. I am afraid to say that forensic evidence, in particular, is repeatedly served extremely late. It is frequently the basis of what are called notices of additional evidence, which means that the Crown will serve their case and the evidence on which they seek to rely in accordance with a timetable. That will, inevitably, not include the forensics evidence. They will then serve at a much later time that evidence.

I am involved in a case now where the Crown has asked to serve cell site evidence, fingerprint evidence and glass analysis all within four weeks of the date set for the trial. This is in an armed robbery case-this is not a small case-but the evidence is not available. For the defence to identify the issues, we need to know what the evidence is. If the Crown is not going to serve it until four weeks before a trial date, you can see immediately the difficulties that exist. There are problems around late disclosure, particularly of forensic evidence by the Crown, which then make the whole process particularly difficult. We have to get our experts. We have to get our prior authority.

That leads me to the issue that Michael raised about legal aid, and there is certainly an issue around that and around the levels of funding that are permitted for defence experts. There has been a recent tightening by the Legal Services Commission of the rates that they are prepared to pay. I have certainly been involved in issues where forensic scientists have said to me that the processes they are involved in require considerable capital investment. They, of course, like any business, have to look to set their rates in order to get a return on that capital investment if they are going to carry out the proper tests. If the rates are set at such a level that they are not going to be able to achieve that, then they simply will not take on that work. So there are issues around the granting of prior authority for this work by the Legal Services Commission that need to be looked at very carefully to ensure a level playing field for the defence when it comes to forensic science.

We covered a great deal in what was said. Finding the right expert was another matter that Michael raised. I would agree with that from a defence perspective. The quality of forensic science that is available to the defence is, in my experience and opinion, undoubtedly equal and sometimes better than that used by the Crown. Ensuring that you identify the appropriate expert can be difficult at times. There are areas in which we regularly work. Michael works with the shaken baby syndrome, and there are other areas that I have regular experience of and you use your experts. There are new areas of science to come along, developments within DNA-for example, low copy number DNA-and we are all aware of the issues that arose around that. It is important to be able to identify the exact expert that you need who has a specialism or sub-specialism within that area. It is no use going to a general DNA expert sometimes when you are looking for a new area. Getting that information to the defence community can be difficult. So I would agree with him on that.

Q174 David Tredinnick: Listening to all three of you, it seems to me from what I have heard so far that, although there is an issue about FSS and what has happened to it, the bigger issue is the failure to follow in court the existing procedures-there is a cultural problem-enforcement of the rules in court, disclosure rules virtually broken and forensic evidence served late. This is more to do with procedure than science, is it not?

Michael Turner: Yes, it is. You are absolutely right. It is cost from the defence point of view in being able to instruct the appropriate expert. It is the prosecution doing their job to disclose the material so that the defence can react. These are all things that are internal.

Karen Squibb-Williams: I would like to add to that. In recognition of those very real issues around the country, over the last seven or eight years the CPS has put together that which is now called streamlined forensic reporting. The Government referred to this in their White Paper "Swift and Sure Justice" last May. That was built to entirely resolve the issue that Richard is talking about. I am not saying that it will, but it is at least built to assist and move us further down the road.

Streamlined forensic reporting means that right at the very beginning of the case the defence is provided with what is called an FSR1. It is a form which, literally, summarises the Crown’s forensic evidence that it intends to rely on. It summarises forensic information in the form of, "There is a DNA match with this kind of stain and that individual’s profile." That is to enable the defence to start saying what the Crown’s forensic case is and to start teasing out and responding with their issues.

A classic example of how this works-it is oversimplifying-is in a rape case. If, for example, the issue in the rape case is consent, there really is no need to have 28 pages of forensic science saying that the DNA belonged to the alleged perpetrator. This is the point about streamlining particularly forensic evidence. That is so that we can build a proportionate case that reduces the risk of delays, where there is, perhaps, a sense of "Oh, forensicate everything and then we will see what happens." That approach tends to cause delays, provides far too much information and costs too much money to the public purse. Streamlined forensic reporting breaks it down into its scientific elements, draws forward the defence issue that they take with that science or this science, and can be further responded to appropriately.

Q175 Chair: But only if it is presented to both parties in a reasonable time.

Karen Squibb-Williams: Yes. To be fair, ACPO has been leading the national roll-out of SFR. They are due to complete their national roll-out by the end of March, which means that all police forces within their investigations from thereafter will have the necessary forms, guidance and tools. They have had the education in terms of road shows where you go out and introduce the concept and the different ways of working to all forces. You will not have seen it in any unified, meaningful context yet, other than in pilot areas, but from April onwards all forces will be using this method to report on forensic science, unless the case is so complex that it would be silly to break it down into such small parts.

Q176 Sarah Newton: You have given us a lot of reassurance for the reasons that you stated-that you feel the quality of forensic science deployed by the defence is of a good quality. I would like to push you a bit further on that, because we have been given evidence that it is not the expert witnesses but maybe more the kind of day-to-day DNA testing that is not all delivered to the same standard-all the sorts of bread-and-butter forensic tests that you were describing. There is ISO 17025. Only some providers attain that and not all are accredited. How important are those ISO-type accreditations and other accreditations? How important is the potential role of the regulator in registering and enabling only certain providers to provide forensic evidence to you?

Richard Atkinson: It is a very valid point. It is difficult on an objective basis for lawyers to be able to evaluate the competence and skills of a forensic scientist. Certainly, until my intended appearance before this Committee, the existence of ISO 17025 was, I am afraid to say, unknown to me. I am now fully aware of it and will be looking carefully at my experts. That is exactly the point I am making. Being aware of exactly what the necessary-if I can use the generic term-kitemarks are and standards that are to be achieved is very difficult for lawyers. It is very much a case of going either on experts that you have used in the past and your experience of them, or recommendations that will come from other lawyers and counsel, who will have had a broader experience as well. It is difficult. The idea of a regulator and a register are both to be welcomed from the defence perspective to give that underlying assurance that the minimum standards-I think they are talking about minimum standards-are met by those who seek to provide this service in the evidence to the courts.

Michael Turner: I have nothing to add to what Richard said. I would not want this Committee to leave today thinking that everything is rosy in the garden. It is not. There are real problems in our court system, which are not directly concerned with this Committee, but, in terms of the disclosure, with Karen saying, "It’ll come, it’ll come", the cost of it not being there at the moment is huge to the taxpayer. Every case I do, whether it has a forensic angle or not, is blighted by disclosure problems, which either cause the collapse of the case or a delay of the case. I know that Richard will support me in that in terms of what he sees. That is a real problem at the moment, and I would not want anyone around this table to think that it is not.

Karen Squibb-Williams: Just to clarify my comments in relation to what you have interpreted as disclosure, my comments that it will come were in relation to streamlined forensic reporting. They were not comments on disclosure generally. I am just able to illustrate to you what has changed within the forensic science evidence range.

Sadly, I am all too familiar with 17025. Very sadly, I have breathed that number and the other number, 17020, for some ridiculous number of years now, but less sadly-and that is because it is very helpful-now that we have a regulator in place sitting over this commercial market, there is a very clear indicator of what at least the minimum standards are. My understanding is that the vast majority-in fact, I cannot think of an exception-of forensic science providers who are on the national procurement framework, which provides forensic science to police forces across the country, are all accredited for their purpose to 17025. In the past there has been much debate about whether it should be 20, 25 and so forth.

I understand, too, that, of course, it is a condition of accession to the EU that all laboratories analysing DNA comply with 17025 by the end of 2013, and that all environments providing fingerprint analysis also comply by the end of 2015. There is a pan-European move towards at least having these baselines included. The work of that kind of validation and accreditation makes a big difference to this environment. If anything, it is putting us into a stronger place now that we do have clear pictures and pointers. "Are you validated for this process? Is the individual accredited to interpret this process?" They are good questions and we are a lot closer to having the answers.

In relation to having the regulator there and looking at having equality of arms across all providers, we are in a stronger position for what on one view is not unnerving but a more commercial environment. We are still the only country to have fully commercialised the provision of forensic science for the criminal justice system. Within our adversarial jurisdiction, as opposed to the more inquisitorial jurisdictions in Europe, that is quite a big, bold step. Caveats like ISOs, regulators and so forth will assist us on this journey.

Q177 Chair: I find myself slightly concerned that, perhaps, you are being a little overconfident when the reality is-and Mr Atkinson was honest enough to acknowledge it-that a senior lawyer is not familiar with the ISO standard. From that, it is reasonable to suppose that many of the judges he addresses are not familiar with the standard. Therefore, what is the pressure inside the court system to deliver what the regulator is seeking to enforce?

Karen Squibb-Williams: I can certainly understand how what I have said has invited that question. The meaningful answer to it can only come from the court representatives, but I can tell you from my perspective within the CPS that the senior judiciary has given the development of ISO 17025-these kinds of levels-enormous support. Also, it is fair that it takes a long time particularly with the judicial environment, where absolute independence is essential. They do not, in perhaps the same way as the CPS, which is a national prosecution service, say, "We will have a policy. We will put it out to all our members and they will comply with it as best as they are able." As far as the judicial system is concerned, that is a matter for the senior presiding judge to say. All I can add is that he has shown great support for compliance with the Criminal Procedure Rules and the streamlined forensic reporting that we have put out.

Q178 David Tredinnick: I have to run with the Chair’s statement, I find it, frankly, astonishing that you have come to us today and said that there are these clear rules that are not applied, and, not only that, you do not know what they are. I find it almost beyond my zone of perception. I just cannot believe that these ISOs have been established with a purpose and no one is taking any notice of them. Here we are trying to deal with forensic issues, when your procedures-not your personal procedures but the procedures of the judiciary-are, clearly, fundamentally flawed.

Karen Squibb-Williams: I am not saying that nobody is taking no notice of them.

Michael Turner: They are not flawed. They are good rules-

Q179 David Tredinnick: But no one is taking any notice of them.

Michael Turner: -but they are not being carried out.

Q180 David Tredinnick: That is the same thing, is it not? Nobody is taking any notice of them. You can come here and say, "We don’t even know what they are", which I find absolutely extraordinary. I think, Chair, that this is a large slice of the problem.

Chair: David, you have the next question.

Q181 David Tredinnick: Have I?

Michael Turner: You can go off script.

David Tredinnick: Before we get on to the next question, when we were at the Met labs on Thursday of last week, building on what you, Mr Atkinson, said earlier about computers dominating every case, I formed the impression that there was a complete lack of a proper use of IT systems. There was a lack of connectivity. Not only that, some of the archives were not on computer databases and, if they were, they could not be accessed. Is that something that worries you?

Michael Turner: Richard and I were discussing this outside before we came in. In terms of the archive itself, we, absolutely and passionately, believe that that should be kept, that it should be put on to computer, that it should be accessible by those within the forensic science service and it should be properly catalogued. I understand from Karen that they are starting to catalogue it, but that is a process that needs to be done.

Q182 David Tredinnick: When we had our roundtable discussion with the scientists there, part of their frustration was the inability to get information to and from different parties, which was demoralising for them. There does not seem to be any connectivity between the computer systems in the FSS and the other organisations. Does that have any resonance with you?

Michael Turner: It certainly does, and there will not be because they claim data protection issues in terms of that.

Q183 David Tredinnick: If we are going to this partly privatised system, how on earth can we possibly have it functioning properly if the different organisations cannot communicate properly?

Michael Turner: They have got to. That is the schism with this privatisation that one has to help get over.

Q184 David Tredinnick: A secondary problem is that the new forensic agencies are subcontracting out, so you are getting a new command structure of further information, and it does not seem to be working very efficiently. Would that not be a sensible area to address in terms of how evidence is produced to the court, because, if there is not a proper flow of information, surely that is going to cause the very problems that Mr Turner is referring to in court?

Karen Squibb-Williams: I would recommend that that particular issue is addressed to the Home Office-it was the MPIA element-who have been in charge of putting together the national procurement framework. I have confidence that they will be able to give you answers. From where I am, we do not see that yet emerging as a problem in cases that we are dealing with. I am not saying that there are not any problems with that, but it has not affected the work where cases have come through for prosecution. It is obviously an important matter, but I would want the Home Office to deal with that.

Q185 David Tredinnick: Thank you very much. Moving on, how is the reliability of an expert forensic witness’s evidence currently tested?

Michael Turner: Are you talking about the reliability of his expertise or the specific evidence that he has given? Do you mean an expert generally?

Q186 David Tredinnick: The reliability of an expert forensic witness’s evidence. How do you test the evidence?

Michael Turner: I will split it into two parts.

David Tredinnick: There are two questions perhaps in that.

Michael Turner: First, we have the ability to test whether this person is an expert or not. That is something that is challengeable and which the courts understand. Assuming that they are accepted as an expert and they are giving evidence on blood spatter, neuropathology or whatever it is, then that is tested by cross-examination based on your own expert. So I will have my own expert who says, "I agree", or, "I disagree in these certain respects", and I will then cross-examine that expert with a view to calling my own expert to say, "That is wrong." That is how it is tested in the courtroom context.

Q187 David Tredinnick: Do you agree with the Law Commission’s 2011 proposals that there should be an admissibility test for expert evidence? How would that work in practice?

Michael Turner: I suggest that Richard answers this first because I am not in complete agreement.

Richard Atkinson: So he nicely sets me up and then attacks me afterwards. I think it would be helpful. It fits into the framework of the Criminal Procedure Rules in that it will direct the first part of the question that Michael addressed, and that is the competence of the witness to give the evidence that they are going to give, particularly with regard to areas of what I might call emerging science. I have in mind the earprint case, for example. Is that an area in which properly claimed scientific evidence can be given, or is that more-if I am kind-in the early stages of the development of a science, or speculation on someone who has an interest in what might be a useful subject? To test whether or not it should be admissible as forensic evidence is a useful starting point, which the Law Commission pointed out was perhaps an area where lawyers have been weaker in their challenge to expert evidence. They have more directed it at the evidence that is being given than the underlying basis for that evidence. So the two-stage test of whether or not it should be admissible and whether it is directed to an issue that is relevant in the case would be a useful starting point for the delivery of forensic evidence.

Michael Turner: The rules are there already. I take Richard’s point that, if you have another overlying rule, then maybe it will prompt something. My own view is that we have all the rules we need to test whether someone is an expert or not.

Q188 David Tredinnick: I have one further question. Is there a lack of scientific literacy among the judiciary generally that prevents the scrutiny of forensic evidence? If there is, how could it be improved?

Michael Turner: That is certainly not my experience. Dealing with my sub-speciality of baby shaking, I have found, within the courts where I do it, that they will assign specific judges who have experience of those cases to try them. So they are trying to build up the expertise of the judiciary. I am fortunate in the sense that I mainly appear in front of High Court judges and, therefore, they read up on their science and they are good. I cannot speak for the judiciary wholesale. That is not my experience.

Q189 David Tredinnick: In relation to the scale of the problem, you said earlier on, Mr Turner, that baby-shaking cases are there on a daily basis. Is that really true? Do you have baby-shaking cases every day of the week?

Michael Turner: Not every day.

Q190 David Tredinnick: But it is a growing problem, is it?

Michael Turner: I do not believe it is a growing problem, actually. It is a growing accusation, but I do not believe it is a problem.

Q191 Stephen Metcalfe: I would like to go back to the accreditation issue of ISO 17025. Where a provider is credited with that, what does that say to you about the quality of the evidence that they provide-for those who have heard of it?

Karen Squibb-Williams: If you isolate simply the concept of 17025 compliance from the whole package of the regulator’s codes of practice and conduct, that is quite a difficult answer to give. I believe that, where 17025 is integral to the commitment that is made by those providers who are on the national procurement framework and those providers who comply with the regulator’s codes, integral to that 17025 produces a very helpful 3D approach to the standards that that provider is going to apply. It almost touches on your previous question in relation to experts. From a prosecution perspective, for which I can only speak, there is more confidence to be had where a laboratory or provider has been through independent assessment of their processes, because that is all 17025 is. It is not going to address anything to do with the criminal justice system, but it is a health check on the quality of their processes-their admin, if you like-how they do what they do and how they account for what they do. In particular, 17025 requires that proper records are kept.

From the criminal justice system perspective, proper records equals good continuity. That is a very strong element. Really, it needs to be seen in the context of the triumvirate of all the things that are available as part of the health checks.

Q192 Stephen Metcalfe: So you are saying that, in itself, it is just another indication of the quality of the science that could be done, but it does not guarantee that you will get quality science. What it means is that you will know when poor science was conducted.

Karen Squibb-Williams: It means that there is every chance or an enhanced chance of there being greater transparency of where the processes have worked and are recorded, and where the processes have a problem, and that problem has to be recorded in order to retain the accreditation. That is of great comfort in terms of continuity and quality.

Q193 Stephen Metcalfe: Therefore, when selecting a provider to do some science either on behalf of the prosecution or defence, if ISO does not guarantee that you get good science, what other tools or measures do you use to know that the provider is going to be able to conduct some good science on behalf of the prosecution or the defence?

Michael Turner: This is word of mouth. In terms of ISO 17025, it does not guarantee anything. All it guarantees is that they have passed a test as to whether their administration is up to scratch. In terms of your focused question, which is how does that guarantee the quality of the evidence that they give, it does not. Within our community, it is word of mouth. Richard will ring me and ask, "Have you come across a decent expert on earprints or fingerprints?", and I will give a recommendation and vice versa, because we have seen them in the courtroom context. It is not only the evidence that they give but it is how they give it, how they stand up to cross-examination and all those kinds of things.

Q194 Chair: In defence of scientists, the same could be said for lawyers, of course, could it not?

Michael Turner: Of course it can, and exactly that happens. "Do you know a good QC?" "Don’t instruct Michael Turner." Of course that happens within our community.

Richard Atkinson: One area where perhaps I can hide behind my own ignorance of ISO 17025, which has been helpfully highlighted, is that you may want to consider this point. We have talked about prior authority being granted to defence lawyers for the expenditure to instruct experts. That is public money that is being granted.

Something to consider would be whether or not those granting that authority-the Legal Services Commission-should set, as a pre-requisite to any authority, a requirement that those experts have ISO 17025, if it is the Committee’s view that that is a minimum standard that you would expect any expert who is in receipt of public funding to have attained. Therefore, if individual lawyers have not addressed that issue, it would, none the less, be forced upon them by the fact that the Legal Services Commission would be saying, "I am sorry, but you cannot instruct this expert because they have not reached that standard." We have to tell them who we intend to instruct, what their qualifications and experience are and how much they are going to charge. I suspect it is only the third question that really interests them.

From what you are saying, they should perhaps also be addressing issues of quality or at least minimum standards. Those matters which Michael has raised are matters that are highly relevant to the lawyers, and that is how effective, in their presentation of the evidence, the expert is going to be. Clearly, where you are representing a client, that is of paramount importance. The issues that you raise, may, none the less, be addressed through a minimum threshold at the very beginning of saying, "You cannot have an expert who has not reached these standards", and that would come through the Legal Services Commission grant of prior authority.

Q195 Stephen Metcalfe: But that is not where we are at the moment.

Richard Atkinson: It is not.

Q196 Stephen Metcalfe: So you do not check whether they have got ISO 17025 before asking for someone’s advice. You just check that they have the relevant qualifications and experience.

Michael Turner: Yes. You have to be careful with ISO 17025. If you are going to make it a minimum requirement, you have to voice it around the scientific community. What you do not want is to have a very experienced expert who has never heard of this and we want to instruct them, and then we are told, "No, sorry, we are not going to fund that." They have to have an opportunity to tick the box, as it were.

Q197 Stephen Metcalfe: Did the CRFP-the Council for Registration of Forensic Practitioners-provide a better indication of the quality of the scientists and the evidence that they might give rather than the ISO?

Karen Squibb-Williams: From the CPS perspective, the answer would be no, inasmuch as when you dug beneath the requirements for registration they were very much a part of self-assessment. That is not to say that the quality of people on the register were not of an appropriate standard-I am sure they were-but in terms of the badge, because it was self-assessment and subject to the payment of a fee to join the register, from a prosecution perspective, it does not give as independent an oversight as the acquiring of an ISO does give. On that point, the regulator, who is giving evidence to this Committee next week or thereabouts, would say that he has already initiated discussions with the LSC in relation to the point that Richard made of the level playing field of quality standards for defence and prosecution experts. That is a very encouraging observation. It is also encouraging that those discussions have been under way for quite some time.

Chairman, can I make a comment, please, in terms of experts and how the witnesses are to be tested and so forth? One of the points I meant when I referred to cultural changes was that, where we are taking experts to be tested in court, the whole purpose of the Criminal Procedure Rules is to bring experts forward into the whole process, if you like, so that there is less playing out the testing within the courtroom, and there is a greater emphasis on case management and using things like rule 33.5-the pre-trial meeting of experts. In that way, you should, if the procedure is followed reasonably strictly, be able to weed out who is a good-quality expert, offering good-quality science or whatever, and who is less so. So, again, the court should not be so exposed to those differences. I realise that, as a policy person, my world is looking forward, looking to improvement, whereas practitioners are living the dream on the coalface each day.

Michael Turner: Or not, as the case may be.

Karen Squibb-Williams: Absolutely.

Q198 Pamela Nash: The quality standards and accreditation apply only to private forensic science providers and not necessarily to all police in-house providers. Is this something that concerns you and your members? Do you think that this will make it easier to challenge the quality of that forensic evidence from in-house police providers in court?

Michael Turner: If you are going to have a quality standard, it has to be across the board. Your question is a good one because, if everyone else has to have this standard but the in-house do not, certainly we will go for that. Why would you want to weaken your prosecution by having in-house scientists who have that obvious problem right from the start?

Q199 Pamela Nash: Mr Turner, is this a problem that you have ever come across with the quality of the provision of forensic services by the police, or have any of your members raised this issue with you?

Michael Turner: What-in terms of quality? Yes; certainly, we have, and I have spoken to a number of prosecutors in the last week in anticipation of giving this evidence, and they have all expressed concerns about the provision of in-house science, both as to its quality and potential independence.

Richard Atkinson: I would support that. There are concerns about quality, independence and also ensuring that there is proper access for the defence to do their work. In the past, there has been a degree of proprietorial ownership in that, "The matter is at our laboratory. It is our work. We are in-house", which then can create issues of access to the defence which were not there with the FSS and other agencies, who are much more open to the defence, by ringing up and making almost informal inquiries before submitting information for their own experts to have a look at it, and getting hold of material. There are concerns about in-house use and the quality, which, if they are not subject to the quality standards of others, will be subject to the financial pressures that we know the police forces are very much under at the moment.

Q200 Pamela Nash: Could you be more specific? Are there incidents where people have been denied access to materials or evidence?

Richard Atkinson: This is a concern, effectively, relating to how things used to be a long time ago and how they may develop, rather than any specific instances that have happened so far.

Q201 Pamela Nash: So the feeling is that the situation may return to the previous situation.

Richard Atkinson: Yes, to the 1970s.

Q202 Pamela Nash: On that point, one of the private forensic science providers who gave evidence to the Committee expressed concern that police in-sourcing was leading to the fragmentation of investigations. Is this something that any of you would recognise?

Michael Turner: I am not sure that I understand the question.

Pamela Nash: Neither do I, which is why I asked the question.

Q203 Chair: The problem is that, with different tests being done in different laboratories, there is no continuity of the science leadership. That is giving rise to concerns.

Michael Turner: That is a fair point. Now I understand it, thank you; it is a fair point. You do get that fragmentation. What is being said behind that is that what you are after is a holistic investigation. That requires bringing all your science together to see where it is leading you.

Karen Squibb-Williams: But that is what the police, who lead all the investigations, or law enforcement authorities do. There may be fragmentation in terms of provision of products and services, but I am not convinced that that necessarily leads to fragmentation of delivery. Each investigation is law enforcement-led. Therefore, there is a holistic oversight of how that case is to be put together. It may be simply that we are just not used to saying, "This product is going here", and, "That service is going there." We are simply not used to it so we are nervous about it. Of course, historically, every single investigation is holistically co-ordinated by the law enforcement investigating body. I do not really see, certainly from a CPS perspective, any evidence of the fragmentation of provision working its way through to the fragmentation of thinking in co-ordinating an investigation and passing it through to the CPS for prosecution.

Q204 Pamela Nash: The reason why I raised this point was to use this as an example, but are there any other reasons why or evidence you have seen that in-sourcing of forensic science is going to damage criminal justice in England?

Michael Turner: It is a dropping of standards. Once those standards drop, you are going to get damage to the system, whether it is to the victim because of a poor prosecution backed up by poor science, or whether it is to an injustice case caused by the jury believing poor science. It is either way.

Karen Squibb-Williams: I see no evidence that there is a drop in standards. I understand the argument about ISO 17025 applying to commercial providers, but the absence of it does not necessarily mean that there are no policy checks in relation to police provision of forensic analysis. The reality is that any in-sourced provision of forensic analysis is the subject of very high levels of intensive training whereby they have their own accountability towards the standards that individuals operating it have been trained to. I do not know that much about it, but the absence of ISO 17025 does not mean to say that there is a drop in standards. I simply cannot think of any evidence that that is the case in the way in which Michael has addressed it. There are individual cases where things have gone wrong. There always will be. For example, the CPS is dealing with 1.2 million cases a year.

Q205 Chair: If there is a dispute between you and Mr Atkinson as to his concern about drifting back to the 1970s, does this not open the door to increased costs in the criminal justice system, because a reputable lawyer is going to present to the case doubt about the integrity of the process, and that will, inevitably, mean that costs will rise in the system?

Karen Squibb-Williams: The mitigation to that risk has already been quite long in the process and is now seen in the elements that I have pointed to, such as streamlined forensic reporting, bringing things back to a proportionate prosecution in order to create a more cost-effective service in this environment and proper compliance with the Criminal Procedure Rules by bringing more case management into issues around expert witnesses, rather than leaving it just to see what happens at trial. There has been a lot of focus on mitigating that risk, and we have the tools out there already to try and deliver the reality.

Michael Turner: Picking up your question, I fundamentally disagree with Karen on this point. It is very important. It is not only about the potential cost of poor science, but it is exactly what is happening in our system now, which is that the Government claim is that, in taking money out of the legal aid system, we are saving money for the taxpayer. What is not examined is what happens at the other end. The delays in our court system are now so endemic. It costs £110 a minute to run a courtroom with a jury based on a two-barrister case. There is delay after delay after delay for a huge variety of reasons. That is causing the taxpayer a huge amount of money. It is a well-observed question, if I may say so, but it goes much wider than just poor science.

Q206 Jim Dowd: I was astonished about the cost of £60,000 an hour.

Michael Turner: Yes. That is an old statistic. That statistic is 10 years old. It is the only research that has ever been done. It was done at the Bailey.

Q207 Stephen Metcalfe: It is £6,000 an hour.

Michael Turner: It is £6,000 an hour.

Q208 Chair: What’s a nought between friends?

Jim Dowd: I am less astonished by that.

Michael Turner: The way it was done is that they took into account how much the lawyers cost, how much the judges cost, how much it cost to have an usher, blah, blah, blah. That is how the cost was arrived at.

Q209 Jim Dowd: I would like to look at the role of the Forensic Science Regulator, which has already been mentioned. It is a non-statutory role as things stand. Is there a need for more independent oversight of the presentation of forensic evidence in court? Judging from the lack of response, obviously not.

Michael Turner: The oversight comes from the scientists in court. We see them, certainly in the defence community. If we come across a poor scientist who has been instructed, we will get that round pretty quickly in terms of the defence community, "Do not instruct X." I am not sure the same process happens in the prosecution community-that is the problem-but certainly that is what happens in the defence community. "Never go there again", we will say. I am not sure that happens in the prosecution community, although they recognise it.

Q210 Jim Dowd: This is a matter of observation and I do not expect you to give empirical evidence, but is it not an issue for juries who would be paying more attention to the fact that somebody is described as an expert rather than examining the evidence they actually put forward?

Michael Turner: My experience of juries is such that I have a lot of faith in the jury system. I do not think that they are blinded by science. That is certainly not my experience. Juries, in my view, are very sensible and put it into the balance appropriately.

Q211 Jim Dowd: But there is a view within legal circles, and others for that matter-I am sure you are not part of it-that their role in complex fraud cases, for example, cannot be relied upon in the same way.

Michael Turner: What-experts or juries?

Jim Dowd: Juries.

Michael Turner: I have always thought that to be completely ridiculous. Juries understand very complicated facts and cases. It has been proved time and time again. The best fraud example was a case heard two years ago; it lasted a year at the Bailey and then collapsed. Everyone said that the jury could not understand it. The jury were absolutely furious. They understood every single word. It is insulting to juries. They are perfectly capable of understanding some of the most complicated cases we have.

Q212 Jim Dowd: Coming back to the regulator again, is it practical or necessary to expect the regulator to get involved in criminal cases as a source of objective and impartial advice on matters forensic?

Michael Turner: It would be hugely expensive. If you are expecting an independent review by a regulator of scientific evidence, they would have to follow their scientists all over the country, would they not? They would have to be in the court to see how they give evidence.

Q213 Jim Dowd: Do you think it is necessary?

Michael Turner: No. Personally, I do not think it is necessary, certainly from a defence point of view. It would help from the prosecution point of view if they looked closely at their in-house science and how that is given. What we have found over the years is that, once you have an in-house scientist for the prosecution, they are there. It doesn’t matter how good or bad they are. If they are bad, no one says, "Actually, we have looked at you and maybe you shouldn’t be giving your fingerprint evidence. You should be doing something else."

Q214 Jim Dowd: Is there a role, then, for the regulator to have statutory powers to enforce quality standards on the providers of forensic evidence?

Michael Turner: If it is a regulator, one would expect, certainly, that they would require the scientist to have continuing professional development, those kinds of things, which most other regulators do. Is that what you are thinking about?

Q215 Jim Dowd: Given the fact that it is a non-statutory regulator at the moment, then it clearly has no powers to enforce very much at all. The question is whether there should be that statutory requirement.

Michael Turner: In order to maintain standards, I would have thought you would need to give them those powers, yes.

Richard Atkinson: I would agree. It would be helpful for them to have statutory powers. It goes hand in hand with ISO 17025.

Q216 Jim Dowd: You are obviously a convert to that.

Richard Atkinson: I made the comment upon the principle, if not necessarily the content, of the standard. As someone who is subject to many similar kitemarks myself, they are useful as ground rules of minimum standards, but they do not ensure delivery. As you well know, I do not know much about ISO 17025, but most kitemarks are about tick-box exercises and about administration. They do not guarantee quality of delivery of the service that they are underlying. So the benefit of having those minimum standards, which are useful and relevant but need a regulator with statutory powers to enhance and ensure that proper standards are delivered, go hand in hand together. One should not be seen as a substitute for the other.

Karen Squibb-Williams: From the CPS perspective, we would say that it is too soon to tell, bearing in mind that the office is a relatively new one, albeit 2008. The codes were not produced until the end of 2010. There are a number of reforms that have been a long time working their way through the criminal justice system. It is not even that long since we saw the demise of CRFP, but at this point there is more of a journey to go before we see whether we need the heavier hand of statutory enforcement. If, in particular, we look at the Court of Appeal rulings that have emerged since about the beginning of 2010 to date, there are some very strong and very clear rulings that make it absolutely unequivocally clear that compliance with regulated standards and codes is expected of forensic science provision across the piece. I would say that it is too soon to judge whether a light hand is going to be able to work in the future.

Q217 Jim Dowd: Do you have any idea of how long it might take before you reach that assessment?

Karen Squibb-Williams: I cannot say what the CPS perspective is. My own personal instinct is that we need to look at the environment in three to four years’ time. The improvements that we have talked about that have been worked on through the system over the last few years should have materialised by then. If not, then perhaps that is the time to review.

Q218 Stephen Metcalfe: I want to go back to fragmentation for a moment. I am getting a sense that there is a mixed message here. Fragmentation could be the source of a drop in standards, although, on the other hand, it could be the better use of different experts, who are more specialists in their field. One of the concerns that has been expressed is that using different experts to interpret the evidence and present it could lead to the jury becoming confused and it is not as easy to understand all the evidence being presented because it is not coming from one person; yet you have just said that you have great faith in the intelligence of jurors to be able to interpret that. Is fragmentation in itself a bad thing?

Michael Turner: No.

Karen Squibb-Williams: No.

Richard Atkinson: No.

Stephen Metcalfe: Fine. Thank you.

Q219 Chair: I have a final question, if I may, on the forensic archive that we have touched on. As you know, the decision was eventually taken to maintain the historic archive in Birmingham. As one of you correctly said, there is a process of cataloguing the materials going on at the present time. The archive will not be maintained with fresh case material. It is just going to be an historic one and there will be 40-odd other mini-archives scattered around the country. Do you see that as presenting problems in the longer term?

Michael Turner: It is an enormous sadness. As soon as you start scattering this information all over the country, it will be lost. It should at least be kept centrally and at least be accessible by the science community.

Q220 Chair: I am going to come on to access in a minute. In terms of the integrity of information, if one is dealing with materials that have been scattered, and some possibly lost because there is not a national indexing system, that gives you concerns, does it?

Michael Turner: Yes.

Q221 Chair: What about the rest of you?

Karen Squibb-Williams: Forgive me, Chairman, but I did not think that the decision had yet been taken as to the future of the archive. I was not aware that we were looking at all 43 forces holding their own over time.

Q222 Chair: The Met has already moved in that direction. The other forces are making up their minds.

Karen Squibb-Williams: Exactly.

Q223 Chair: But there is, at the present time, within Forensic Archive Limited, no provision for them to provide a continuous service for a particular police force or for all of the police forces.

Karen Squibb-Williams: No, that is correct. My understanding is that in two years’ time a review of their role is scheduled to be undertaken. Going back to the purpose of your question as to whether the fragmentation of the archive is a concern, from a practical point it would be if there were 43 different ways of accessing the material. From the CPS perspective, as a single national organisation, it would be quite difficult to be able to communicate to our prosecutors and case workers how you have to access it in this area, that area and so forth. What we have achieved so far, with the benefit of the existing archive arrangements, is the ability to issue national guidance consistently from the CPS and ACPO as to how it is to be accessed for the time being. I don’t know how we would deal with it if it was-

Q224 Chair: But the access is through the investigating force.

Karen Squibb-Williams: It has to be because, by law, the material that is seized under the investigation is the property of the police force, but there is a very clear process-

Q225 Chair: Is it the property of the police force conducting the investigation or where the material is held?

Karen Squibb-Williams: Conducting the investigation.

Q226 Chair: So if the Met seized material in Cheshire-that is just taking my own county-it is kept in the Met.

Karen Squibb-Williams: If the Met was investigating the case, yes.

Q227 Chair: So, if there is a subsequent investigation by Cheshire police on a parallel issue which may require the use of the same materials, they have got to know what has been held by the Met because they cannot search the national archive.

Karen Squibb-Williams: I don’t know enough about what the police would be able to do to answer that. From the CPS perspective, my understanding is that it is a matter for the forces to communicate among each other. My point was only in relation to who owns the material. It is the force that seizes it within the investigation.

Q228 Chair: Is there not the risk of problems developing if there is not a single indexing system that some investigating officer or, indeed, defence team can access at least to know where the material is, leaving aside the procedure for getting access to it? Should there not be a single system?

Karen Squibb-Williams: Working on the hypothesis that anything that is single is much easier to work with, yes. I would hope that from the CPS perspective, which is all I can answer for, we would have the opportunity to contribute to the consultation, which, I understand, will be taken in two years’ time as to what next.

Q229 Chair: From a defence point of view, does the lack of direct access create problems for you?

Richard Atkinson: I don’t think that lack of direct access is an issue, as long as there is no impediment to access through the police. If the police, who are the keepers of this, start to cause problems for defence access, then there would be issues. The fact that one goes through them I do not think of itself is an issue.

Karen Squibb-Williams: It may be of some comfort to know that the regulator-perhaps you could raise this with him-the regulator’s office and the CPS have worked together to draft guidance on precisely this point. It has taken a very long time to ensure that the guidance is appropriate. We do expect to be able to see that attached to his codes within the next two or three months. I know, again, that that sounds terribly slow, but in terms of agreeing a document like this it is not. That guidance is designed to minimise your very concerns that there should not be any obstruction and here is a clear process.

Michael Turner: On the single archive point, there are real lessons of history to be learned about this from the HOLMES computer system. You will all remember that, before the HOLMES computer system, there were serial killers who were absolutely missed completely because there was no joined-up information. It is exactly the same thing. A single system is absolutely necessary. If you have it fragmented 43 times, then there are going to be problems, without question.

Q230 David Tredinnick: I hear that, but, just coming back to the point I was making earlier on about information technology, I put it to you that it should be possible, with the brilliant IT systems we have now, to have that connectivity. In this day and age, it should not be an obstacle. You are talking about historical problems before the development of information technology to the level that we now have it. Do you not think that there is a possibility that this problem could be overcome?

Michael Turner: Absolutely. It should be overcome quite cheaply. That is why I do not see that you have to split it up 43 times. You are exactly right.

Q231 David Tredinnick: I am not saying that; actually I am saying something slightly different. I am saying that, if it is split up 43 times, then surely information technology is such that those records could be available through a simple networking computer system.

Michael Turner: Fine, if that is the proposal.

Q232 David Tredinnick: It is not so much where it is stored but it is the actual access. It is, again, an access issue.

Michael Turner: Yes.

Chair: That has been an extremely interesting session. We are grateful for your attendance this morning.

Prepared 18th February 2013