Failures in capacity in the forensics science market were ‘inexcusable’ and causing delays for complainants, suspects and witnesses, according to the watchdog.
The forensic science regulator, Gillian Tully, in her final report, described her six years’ tenure as ‘fraught with financial, reputational and capacity problems’.
Dr Tully flagged quality issues in a number of areas and , for example, pointed out that no providers in the area of image comparison held the correct accreditation and examples of poor practice were ‘numerous and the risk of miscarriage of justice remains’. Digital media investigators had not yet made ‘any significant steps towards implementing the required quality standards’, the regulator also noted; adding that in some forces they were kept separate from their digital forensics colleagues ‘presumably… in an attempt to avoid the adoption of quality standards’.
‘If we are to achieve a fully functioning system, with enough capacity to ensure timely delivery, there is also an urgent need for more fundamental change,’ said Dr Tully. ‘It is inexcusable that the primary impacts of the shortfalls in capacity for toxicology and digital forensics, which have been clear for many years, still fall on the frontline forensic science practitioners. They bear the brunt of the stresses in the system, with consequent risks to their well-being and, potentially, to quality.’
The impact on justice was ‘even more inexcusable’. She quoted Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary, Fire and Rescue Services on the rationing of toxicology services which led to ‘the inescapable conclusion… that offenders who are suspected of driving while under the influence of drugs are being tolerated and allowed to present a continuing threat to communities. We don’t believe that this is acceptable.’
The Forensic Science Regulator and Biometrics Strategy Bill is currently making its way through Parliament and would give statutory enforcement powers to the next regulator.