Forensic scientists ask who will safeguard criminal justice when FSS is gone?

Forensic scientists ask who will safeguard criminal justice when FSS is gone?

Prospect is calling on the government to address key concerns, such as ensuring the impartiality of forensic science provided by prosecuting forces and the maintenance of the national DNA database under commercial ownership, before it sets-up a team to oversee the wind-down of the Forensic Science Service.

It follows last week’s shock announcement that the Home Office plans to break-up and close down the GovCo over the next 15 months.

On behalf of more than 1,000 forensic scientists and other professionals employed by FSS, Prospect is opposed to the closure and deeply concerned at the impact on the criminal justice system and forensic science provision in the UK.

Mike Clancy, Prospect Deputy General Secretary, said: “Criminal Justice in England and Wales is heading for a train crash with police budgets cut by 4% year-on-year, courts closing, zero expenditure on forensic quality and R&D and pressure for forensic science to be done on the cheap. It is hard to understand why the government feels this is a move forward when there are so many gaping holes to its approach.

“For example, we have yet to hear what measures will be put in place to guard against the improper use of DNA data for commercial purposes, ensure police impartiality or guarantee the stability of the UK forensics market, given that many private sector contractors are struggling financially or have withdrawn completely from the market.”

In particular, said Clancy, Prospect is seeking answers to:

  • Impartiality. The integrity of forensic evidence collected and assessed by the police would be more easily open to challenge by defence teams in court.
  • The market. What safeguards will be put in place if private suppliers opt out due to constant pressure from the police to cut charges? Reduced income from the police is the reason FSS’ income has fallen and provoked the closure decision.
  • Capacity. How will the proposals maintain the capacity needed to deal with major incidents, such as potential terrorist attacks on London, in addition to day-to-day activities?
  • Small police forces. Building up in-house provision may be possible for larger forces, but how will smaller forces equip themselves with all the necessary specialisms in forensic science or provide peer-to-peer reviews?
  • Cost savings. How do the police know they can do the work cheaper than FSS? Forensics is not separately costed in police accounts and budgets do not necessarily allow for overheads, eg on procurement, HR, facilities etc.
  • Regulation. What additional powers will be awarded to the forensic science regulator to ensure that police forces and private contractors operate on a level playing field of recognisable qualifications and professional codes?
Clancy said: “The union is particularly disappointed that the closure decision pre-empted any benefits that may result from the Transformation Programme already underway, with the loss of FSS labs at Chepstow, Chorley and Birmingham and 750 staff.

“Despite previous assurances and commitments to dialogue the union has been unable to meet the minister to expand on our views for the future of FSS.”