Biometrics strategy and forensic services Contents


1.In March 2016, the Government published its Forensic Science Strategy.1 Our predecessor Committee had significant concerns about it. The Strategy was published more than two years after the date originally promised and had no “coherent vision for forensic services [or] a route-map to deliver it”. The Committee concluded that:

The [Forensics Strategy] document leaves too many issues under-developed to constitute a coherent description of the Government’s policy and direction in this important area. The Government should now aim, on the back of the hopefully imminent publication of its long-awaited Biometrics Strategy and the conclusion of the police’s currently underway forensics ‘scoping work’, to present a revised ‘draft Forensic Strategy’ for a full public consultation.2

The previous Committee highlighted the risks to the sustainability of the forensics market and an inconsistency in the forensics procurement approaches rehearsed in the Strategy.

2.In February 2017, two staff at a private-sector toxicology forensics lab—Randox Testing Services in Manchester—were arrested for manipulating test results. The then Home Office minister, Brandon Lewis MP, told the Committee that the Forensic Science Regulator, Dr Gillian Tully, was undertaking a review to identify the lessons of the case.3 Subsequently, in November 2017, the Regulator wrote to us (and gave us a private briefing) to provide further information on the case and its implications.4 She explained that a large number of criminal cases would be affected, along with civil court cases, by the malpractice and that systems for regulating the quality of forensics work would have to be reassessed. In April 2017, a digital forensics supplier, Forensic Telecommunications Services, ceased trading.

3.The 2016 publication of the Forensics Strategy came without a ‘Biometric Strategy’ that was originally planned to complement it. It is now more than four years since the Government originally promised to produce a strategy addressing biometrics. In February 2017, the Home Office published its Custody Images Review,5 following a 2012 ruling by the High Court that convicted and unconvicted individuals should be treated differently in terms of the retention of their custody images. Meanwhile, there has continued to be controversy about the police’s use of facial recognition technology to identify wanted individuals at the Notting Hill Carnival and other events.

Our inquiry

4.Against that background we decided to take evidence from the Forensics Regulator on the lessons of the Randox case and on developments since the Forensics Strategy was published in 2016, and from Baroness William of Trafford, the current Home Office minister for countering extremism, about the still outstanding publication of a Biometrics Strategy and how the management of facial images is being taken forward.

5.The Minister has now told us that the Biometrics Strategy will be published in June this year.6 We aim in this brief report to flag up issues that the Biometrics Strategy should take on board (Chapter 3). We also take the opportunity to review the situation in forensics services, 18 months after our predecessor Committee’s report and in the light of recent difficulties at some testing facilities (Chapter 2). The main result of our inquiry is that there is a need not just for the long-delayed Biometrics Strategy, but also a reassessment and revision of the 2016 Forensics Strategy. Our brief inquiry has identified an urgent and significant need for action on the governance and oversight of both forensics and biometrics. This is vitally important because these disciplines, and the way their techniques and data are used, are at the heart of our courts system and underpin essential confidence in the administration of justice.

2 Science and Technology Committee, Forensic Science Strategy, Fourth Report of Session 2016–17, HC 501, p3

3 Letter from Brandon Lewis MP, Minister for Policing and the Fire Service, Home Office, on Randox Testing Services (March 2017)

4 Letter from Dr Gillian Tully on Randox Testing Services (November 2017)

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Published: 25 May 2018