Criminal defenders commissioning forensic science reports based on price may not be receiving high-quality advice because of low legal aid rates, the Forensic Science Regulator warns today.

In a hard-hitting annual report, Dr Gillian Tully says forensic science carried out on the instruction of the defence has been under ‘significant pressure’.

The report states: ‘The current legal aid rates for experts makes establishing a sustainable and accredited business offering high-quality scientific advice to the defence extremely challenging.

‘This risks giving a competitive advantage to those who have not prioritised quality, with consequent risks to the criminal justice system.’

In a foreword to the report, Tully said the single biggest challenge to achieving her aim in relation to the required level of quality of forensic science and pathology in the criminal justice system was ‘financial’.

Tully said: ‘Funding for forensic science across the board, and particularly, perhaps, for defence provision via legal aid, must be at a level that enables the standards to be met. Otherwise we will face the costs, both in the criminal justice terms and financially, of quality failures and loss of confidence in forensic science.’

Highlighting operational issues regarding streamlined forensic reports, the regulator said there was a risk that defendants and their legal representatives have an 'insufficient understanding’ of what is being presented in a report to enable them to determine if a disputed issue should be identified prior to the first hearing.

Streamlined forensic reporting was designed to enable investigators, scientists and prosecutors to comply with the Criminal Procedure Rules, and progress investigations and prosecutions involving forensic science fairly and effectively.

Meanwhile the regulator is expected to consult on a ‘substantive’ standard for sexual assault referral centres and police custody this year.