The work of the Biometrics Commissioner and the Forensic Science Regulator Contents

Conclusions and recommendations


1.It is wholly unacceptable that the forensics market has—once again—come perilously close to collapse in the year since we published our Report. We remain seriously concerned about the long-term viability of the market for forensic science services and the significant risk that this poses to the effective functioning of a criminal justice system. It is encouraging that the Home Office did, eventually, accept our recommendation to review the sustainability of the forensics market. However, the implementation plan for the joint review of forensics provision (2018), published in April 2019, does not appear to propose measures that would adequately address many of the market stability challenges in the forensic services market. (Paragraph 14)

2.The Government should work with the Forensic Science Regulator to develop her proposals for a National Forensic Science Capability. This should focus on those forensic disciplines where skills were threatened and/or already insufficient. The National Forensic Science Capability should also ensure that cyber security standards and protection are strictly applied and secure data back-up of information is routinely and securely stored. (Paragraph 15)

3.In the face of an unstable forensics market which has been on the brink of collapse, and the clear need to uphold quality standards across forensic services, the Regulator—now more than ever—needs statutory powers. The Government professes to “strongly support” the Forensic Science Regulator Bill yet it has not taken any active steps to facilitate its passage through Parliament. Nor are we reassured that it has contingency plans in place to ensure a similar Bill is afforded a legislative slot in the next Parliamentary session. This is unacceptable. The Government has failed to show leadership and pass what is ultimately an uncontroversial piece of legislation but which is vital for the effective administration of justice. (Paragraph 21)

4.The Home Office should apply for a legislative slot for a Forensic Science Regulator Bill in the next Parliamentary Session and not rely on backbench Members to get the Bill through Parliament. Legislation is needed not only to put the Forensic Science Regulator on a statutory footing but also on the use of forensics in the civil and family courts. The Bill should include:

i)Prohibition on the police using non-accredited laboratories; and

ii)All in-house police laboratories should be accredited within a year. (Paragraph 22)

Biometrics Strategy

5.The Government’s 27-page biometrics strategy was not worth the five-year wait. Arguably it is not a ‘strategy’ at all: it lacks a coherent, forward looking vision and fails to address the legislative vacuum that the Home Office has allowed to emerge around new biometrics. Ultimately, it represents a missed opportunity for the Government to set out a principles-based approach for the use and oversight of second generation biometrics. Simply establishing an oversight board, with no legal powers, is not good enough given the highly intrusive nature of the technologies. Further, the development and use of biometric technologies must be transparent and involve as much public awareness and engagement as possible, to ensure that there is public trust in the technologies. Unfortunately, public engagement has been sorely missing from the Home Office’s approach to date. Its ongoing ‘consultation’ on the governance of biometrics has no published terms of reference and there is no obvious way for interested parties to participate. This is not good enough. (Paragraph 27)

6.The UK Government should learn from the Scottish Government’s approach to biometrics and commission an independent review of options for the use and retention of biometric data that is not currently covered by the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012. The results of the review should be published along with a Government Response, and a public consultation on the Government’s proposed way forward should follow. This process should culminate in legislation being brought forward that seeks to govern current and future biometric technologies. (Paragraph 28)

7.There is growing evidence from respected, independent bodies that the ‘regulatory lacuna’ surrounding the use of automatic facial recognition has called the legal basis of the trials into question. The Government, however, seems to not realise or to concede that there is a problem. (Paragraph 36)

8.We reiterate our recommendation from our 2018 Report that automatic facial recognition should not be deployed until concerns over the technology’s effectiveness and potential bias have been fully resolved. We call on the Government to issue a moratorium on the current use of facial recognition technology and no further trials should take place until a legislative framework has been introduced and guidance on trial protocols, and an oversight and evaluation system, has been established. (Paragraph 37)

9.We recommend that the Home Office should issue guidance on Automatic Facial Recognition Trials when it introduces a legislative framework for these trials and that trials must be of a scientific standard. (Paragraph 38)

10.Since the Committee published its Report in 2018, progress has stalled on ensuring that the custody images of unconvicted individuals are weeded and deleted. It is unclear whether police forces are unaware of the requirement to review custody images every six years, or if they are simply ‘struggling to comply’. What is clear, however, is that they have not been afforded any earmarked resources to assist with the manual review and weeding process. The Minister previously promised improvements to IT systems that would have facilitated automatic deletion. Such improvements now appear to have been delayed indefinitely. As such, the burden remains on individuals to know that they have the right to request deletion of their image. As we stated in 2018, this approach is unacceptable and we agree with the Biometrics Commissioner that its lawfulness requires further assessment (Paragraph 44)

11.Police forces should give higher priority in the allocation of their resources to ensure a comprehensive manual deletion process of custody images in compliance with national guidance. In turn, the Government should strengthen the requirement for such a manual process to delete custody images and introduce clearer and stronger guidance on the process. In the long-term the Government should invest in automatic deletion software as previously promised. (Paragraph 45)

Published: 18 July 2019