Closing the Forensic Science Service was an act of ministerial folly which appears set to be compounded by scrapping the archive too
In December 2010 the government decided to close the Forensic Science Service (FSS), which was regarded internationally as a world leader in forensic science. The decision was taken cl andestinely, with only the Association of Chief Police Officers given advance notice that it was being done. Others you might have thought would have had an interest in the decision, such as the lord chief justice, director of public prosecutions, the forensic science regulator and the government’s chief scientific adviser had no idea this was being considered until the decision had been taken. The justification offered by the government was that the FSS was costing £2m a month.
The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee has published two scathing reports about the government’s actions and inactions in relation to the FSS. The government has ignored the committee’s concerns and recommendations. One of those recommendations was that the Forensic Archive, which was maintained by the FSS and consisted of a repository of all forensic exhibits nationally, should not only be maintained but that all police forces should continue to send their exhibits to the archive in the post-FSS closure period. The government rejected the proposal. The Home Office concluded that a national forensic archive would ‘provide no value to forces’.
Apart from the research data it could make available, a national archive would enable cold case reviews of unsolved cases, identify serial offenders and facilitate cross-force investigations. Forensic exhibits are now stored by each force. There are no mandatory requirements as to which exhibits are stored, how they are stored and for how long. The regulator has no statutory powers because the government has failed to make any decision on that committee recommendation.
In a reply to a parliamentary question on 10 November, the government announced that it is undertaking the first review of the archive. I fear that this is a precursor to the decision to close it.
Alastair Logan is on the Human Rights Committee at the Law Society