1.Forensic science and biometrics have been reoccurring issues of concern for successive Science and Technology Committees. The Committee has published Reports on forensic science in 2011, 2013, 2016 and 2018, and covered biometrics in 2015 and 2018.
2.We held a one-off evidence session on biometrics and forensics in March 2019. This session was intended as an opportunity to follow-up on the Committee’s recommendations, made in its 2018 Report.
3.No terms of reference were issued for the inquiry but interested stakeholders were invited to send written submissions on:
a)what progress had been made towards addressing the recommendations made in the Committee’s Report;
b)the Government’s ‘Biometrics Strategy’ and;
c)the Forensic Science Regulator Bill.
4.A total of 13 written submissions were received. A single evidence session was held on Tuesday 19 March, with the Biometrics Commissioner, the Forensic Science Regulator, the Minister for Countering Extremism (Baroness Williams), and Home Office officials.
5.The evidence session highlighted how:
a)very limited progress had been made in addressing the Committee’s recommendations;
b)the situation had, in many respects, worsened in the intervening 10 months most notably, the Forensic Science Regulator told the Committee how “we have come perilously close—within weeks—of a market collapse, with potentially more than one organisation in […] severe financial difficulties”; and
c)addressing the problems raised by the Committee did not appear to be a Home Office/Government priority.
6.We recognise that the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee published a report in May 2019 on Forensic Science and the criminal justice system. This was based on a detailed examination of the sector over the course of nearly a year (beginning in July 2018). Our Report is not attempting to replicate the breadth and depth of work undertaken by our colleagues in the Lords. Instead it is focused on deficiencies in the governance of forensics and biometrics as this is where several problems appear to have their roots.
7.Arguably we are seeing serious governance failings that are stemming from the absence of a comprehensive legislative framework covering forensics and biometrics. Therefore in this Report:
1 Science and Technology Committee, , Seventh Report, Session 2010–12, HC 855
2 Science and Technology Committee, , Second Report, Session 2013–14, HC 610
3 Science and Technology Committee, , Fourth Report of Session 2016–17, HC 501
4 Science and Technology Committee, , Fifth Report of Session 2017–19, HC 800
5 Science and Technology Committee, , Sixth Report of Session 2014–15, HC 734
6 Science and Technology Committee, , Fifth Report of Session 2017–19, HC 800
7 Science and Technology Committee, , Fifth Report of Session 2017–19, HC 800
8 Oral evidence: , HC 1970
10 House of Lords Science and Technology Committee, 3rd Report of Session 2017–19: HL Paper 333 May 2019
Published: 18 July 2019