The quality and consistency of digital and firearms forensics lead the list of ‘high priority’ concerns identified by the forensic science regulator. In her annual report, published this morning, Dr Gillian Tully concludes that ‘significant areas of risk remain’ in the forensic science and pathology provided to the criminal justice system.

Tully’s first report since taking up the post notes that ‘very little’ digital forensics work is ‘accredited to international standards, and the majority has still to be formally validated’. An October 2017 deadline, set by the regulator for all providers to achieve accreditation, ‘will be challenging to meet, despite the extensive programme of work underway’ the report concludes.

Concern on firearms forensics centres on procedures for classifying weapons, which is largely the responsibility of local police forces. This ‘does not meet current regulatory requirements’, creating a ‘significant risk’, the report says. There is, the report adds, ‘a variable level of expertise’, and ‘a lack of understanding among force staff of uncertainty of measurement and the requirement for regular, traceable calibration of velocity determination equipment’.

On contamination of evidence, the report notes that ‘full elimination databases to screen for DNA’ are not all in place, leading to ‘the potential for investigations and courts to be misled’.

Of particular concern are ‘the commercial aspects of forensic science provision’ which are ‘unregulated and the market is declining in size’. This has created ‘quality risks’ including ‘insufficient underpinning investment in science’. Insolvency of suppliers present further ‘consequent risks’ to the criminal justice system.