Criminal cases could collapse due to police using private or in-house unregulated forensic experts, a report by the spending watchdog has warned. A study by the National Audit Office (NAO) published today revealed many forces now use their own unaccredited experts to examine evidence, which presents ‘a risk of service interruption, and lack of capacity’, which could ‘hold up criminal cases or cause them to collapse’.
Whilst the Home Office insisted it kept a close eye on the forensics market, the NAO report – carried out after a request from the House of Commons’ Science and Technology Committee (see PDF) – revealed many laboratories did not meet accreditation standards.
In 2012 British forensic scientists warned the closure of the Forensic Science Service (FSS) could lead to more miscarriages of justice; and a year later the committee warned that a proper forensic science strategy was needed to ensure criminals cannot avoid conviction.
‘More than three-quarters of UK forensic scientists that responded to a New Scientist survey believe that the closure of the FSS will lead to an increase in miscarriages of justice. Most also believe that switching to private and in-house police labs will reduce impartiality in interpretation, and therefore accuracy, of evidence.’
New Scientist, February 8 2012
The committee accused the Government of not recognising the affect closing the FSS, which provided DNA to police forces and government agencies, would have on the criminal justice system.
‘How can anyone be certain, given the confusion, as to what is going to happen to the integrity of our whole criminal justice system?’ asked committee chairman and Labour MP in an interview with BBC News.
‘Should it worry us? Yes. How can anyone be certain, given the confusion, as to what is going to happen to the integrity of our whole criminal justice system when you can’t identify what the costs are – and therefore where benefits lie?’
Police are commissioning more work from their own laboratories – with an estimated £122 million being spent this year. The Forensic Science Regulator, which monitors the work, has incomplete data about their forensic teams and the NAO has no statutory power to enforce laboratories to comply with its quality standards.
BA Journalism undergraduate (third year), writer and reporter.