Don't play Russian roulette with criminal justice
Forensic Science Service plans to put it on a more commercial footing by making 700 staff redundant and closing three of its seven laboratories are tantamount to playing Russian roulette with criminal justice, Prospect warned back in June 2009.
- The Forensic Science Service to be kept in the public sector
- independence of forensic science from the prosecution
- The provision of forensic work to the police not to be based on purely commercial contracts, but to allow for scientific judgement to be exercised
- Locally-based coverage of forensic laboratories
- Common minimum standards at crime scenes and in laboratories, in line with ISO 17020 and 17025 accreditation.
What is forensic science?
Forensic Science is an essential part of the criminal justice system. Forensic providers collect, examine and analyse evidence, and provide expert witnesses to testify in court. They help to convict the guilty and ensure the innocent go free.
The largest forensic provider in England and Wales is the Forensic Science Service.
What is wrong?
Police forces, and other customers, are charged for the work done by forensic providers. In 2003, the then Home Secretary announced his intention that a commercial market should be developed, with companies competing for contracts with the police. The Forensic Science Service, which had been part of the Home Office, was established as a Government-owned Company in 2005 and told it had to compete for business.
This market experiment, unique in the world, has failed. The Forensic Science Service has had to make 700 staff redundant and close three of its seven laboratories. Other forensic companies are also in trouble: venture capitalists have rescued one company while others are reported to be on short-time working, failing to meet targets and loss-making.
The conclusion is that there can be no commercial market in forensic science, and it is time to recognise this. Attempts to "grow the market" have failed, and forensic work is now being driven by cost and not by scientific judgement. Forensic anlaysis that scientists believe will help an investigation is not being allowed because of cost.
What should the future be?
Instead of trying to create an artificial commercial market, the government should concentrate on providing a public service to support the criminal justice system, free of commercial pressure.