The House of Lords Science and Technology Select Committee, under the Chairmanship of Lord Patel, is conducting an inquiry into forensic science. The Committee invites interested individuals and organisations to submit evidence to this inquiry. The deadline for receiving written submissions is Friday 14 September.
In recent years concerns have been raised about the state of forensic science in the UK, and in particular in England and Wales. In July 2013 an inquiry by the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee concluded that major crimes could go unsolved unless the Government did more to support forensic science. In 2015, the National Audit Office warned that forensic science provision was under threat because police were increasingly relying on unregulated experts to examine samples from suspects and crime scenes.
In March 2016, the Home Office published its ‘Forensic Science Strategy’ to address some of these concerns. In the strategy the Government stated its intention to give the Forensic Science Regulator statutory powers but has yet to bring forward legislation to do so. In their latest Annual Report, published in January 2018, the Forensic Science Regulator stated that “without statutory powers to enforce compliance, the Regulator cannot guarantee that all science being used in the [criminal justice system] is being carried out to the required quality standards”.
A 2015 report by the Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser, Forensic Science and Beyond, highlighted a number of challenges for the use of digital forensics including the availability of skills, the global nature of cybercrime, the scale of digital forensic investigations, the interface between digital information and physical information and the challenge of communicating this highly technical information throughout the justice process.
It is in this context that the Committee has decided to launch an inquiry into Forensic Science.
The Committee’s inquiry will consider four broad areas:
1.Is forensic science contributing to the delivery of justice in the UK?
2.What are the current strengths and weaknesses of forensic science in support of justice?
3.What is the scientific evidence base for the use of forensic techniques in the investigation and prosecution of crimes? Are there any gaps in that evidence base?
4.How can the Criminal Justice System be equipped with robust, accurate and transparent forensic science? What channels of communication are needed between scientists, lawyers and the judiciary?
5.What is the level of understanding of forensic science within the Criminal Justice System amongst lawyers, judges and juries? How can it be improved?
6.Is the current training available for practitioners, lawyers and the judiciary appropriate?
7.Is the current market for forensic services in England and Wales sustainable? Are changes needed to ensure forensic science provision is maintained at the level required? What are the risks of a market approach, for example what happens if a provider goes out of business? And what is the impact on quality?
8.Is the system of accreditation working successfully to ensure standardised results and the highest quality analysis and interpretation of significance of evidence?
9.What role should the Forensic Science Regulator have? If the Forensic Science Regulator is to have statutory powers, what should these be?
10.What lessons can be learned from the use of forensic science in Scotland and Northern Ireland? What can be learned from the use of forensic science overseas?
11.Is the ‘Forensic Science Strategy’ produced by the Home Office in 2016 suitable?
12.How should further research funding for forensic science be justified? What should be the focus of such research? What is the role of UK Research and Innovation, especially considering the interdisciplinary nature of much forensic science?
13.Where are the gaps in research and understanding of forensic science? How and by whom should the research questions be articulated to fill these gaps?
14.How can a culture of innovation in forensic science be developed and sustained?
15.Are there current or anticipated skills gaps? Who should have responsibility for and/or have oversight of training?
16.Are there gaps in the current evidence base for digital evidence detection, recovery, integrity, storage and interpretation?
17.Is enough being done to prepare for the increasing role that digital forensics will have in the future? Does the Criminal Justice System have the capacity to deal with the increased evidence load that digital forensics generates?
23 July 2018
230 Technology Committee, (Second Report, Session 2013–14, HC 610)
231 Briefing for the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee, The Home Office’s oversight of forensic services
232 Home Office, Forensic Science Strategy, Cm 9217
234 Forensic Science Regulator, Annual Report November 2016–November 2017