House of Lords launches report on forensic science in the UK
1 May 2019
The House of Lords’ Science and Technology Committee’s report on forensic science, which Professor Ruth Morgan (UCL Security & Crime Science) was the Specialist Adviser for, has found that forensic science in the UK is in a state of crisis.
The Committee, chaired by Lord Patel, found that a lack of funding, an absence of high-level leadership and an insufficient level of research and development means the UK is lagging behind other countries, when it was once considered a world-leader in the field.
Professor Ruth Morgan, Director of the UCL Centre for the Forensic Sciences, said: “Forensic science has been the subject of a number of inquiries in recent years, but the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee inquiry is unique in taking a holistic view of the whole system.
“The recommendations are far reaching, integrated and systemic, and strongly acknowledge the urgency of acting now to stop forensic science lurching from crisis to crisis, and ensuring trust in the justice system.”
The Committee heard evidence that:
- Many private forensic service providers are experiencing serious financial difficulties
- There is no consistency in how the 43 Police Authorities commission forensic science services
- The Forensic Science Regulator has no statutory powers with which to enforce standards of forensic science provision and there is no discernible strategy to deal with the rapid growth of digital forensic evidence
- Cuts to legal aid have affected the ability of defendants to access forensic science expertise resulting in inequitable access to justice
- Research and development in forensic science is currently under resourced, uncoordinated and does not appear to reflect the value to the criminal justice system. This has resulted in serious concerns about the scientific validity of some forensic science fields and the evaluative interpretation of science evidence.
Committee Chair Lord Patel said: “The situation we are in cannot continue. Since 2012 the Home Office has made empty promises to give the Forensic Science Regulator statutory powers but still no action has been taken. We believe that seven years is an embarrassing amount of time to delay legislation; our forensic science provision has now reached breaking point and a complete overhaul is needed.
“If our recommendations are implemented and the Government adequately invests in forensic science, our forensic science market can return to a world leading position.”
The Committee’s recommendations include:
- Creating a Forensic Science Board to deliver a new strategy and take responsibility for forensic science in England and Wales
- The remit and resources of the Forensic Science Regulator should be significantly reformed and expanded to include responsibility for regulating the market and statutory powers to bolster trust in the quality of forensic science
- The Legal Aid Agency should liaise with the market-regulation arm within the expanded role of the Forensic Science Regulator to set new pricing schemes for forensic testing and expert advice for defendants
- The Ministry of Justice and the Home Office should invest in research of automation techniques for data retrieval and analysis to tackle issues with digital forensic analysis
- To return the UK to its position as world-leading, a National Institute for Forensic Science should be created to set strategic priorities for forensic science research and development, and to coordinate and direct research and funding.
The inquiry was launched in July 2018 and heard 21 oral evidence sessions with over 50 witnesses. There were also 103 written evidence submissions, including from the UCL Centre for the Forensic Sciences.
- House of Lords Science and Technology Committee Report
- Professor Ruth Morgan's academic profile
- UCL Centre for the Forensic Sciences
- UCL Department for Security & Crime Science
- UCL Engineering
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Email: k.corry [at] ucl.ac.uk