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Insufficient Funding for Forensic Science Puts Justice at Risk

A lack of funding to improve forensic science is jeopardizing the integrity of the criminal justice system, a new report warns today (Jan. 6)

by Forensic Science Regulator
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UK forensicsOctober 2011 police forensic investigation in Ashton-under-Lyne, England, using a tent to protect the crime scene.Photo credit: Zboralski, Wikimedia CommonsIn her annual report, the UK's Forensic Science Regulator (FSR) Dr Gillian Tully, said not all police forces were fully committed to reaching the required standards, with some failing to recognize the impact of quality failures in the area.

She also said that the main challenge to achieving quality forensic science over the past year was financial and called on police forces and the Legal Aid Agency to make more funding available.

Forensic Science Regulator, Gillian Tully, said:

"Police forces must not treat quality standards for forensic science as an optional extra—and neither must others delivering forensic science in the Criminal Justice System.

Progress has been made, but some forces say they can’t afford to deliver both operational work and the required standards of forensic science. The standards are not an unachievable 'gold-plated' ideal—they are the minimum standards expected of any reliable forensic science."

Related Article: Alan Alda Lends Support to Forensic Science Research Center

The second annual Forensic Science Regulator’s report also calls for investment in the forensic systems currently used by police to ensure they can keep up with increasing amount of work.

Other key findings from the report include:

  • The regulator found there is still a significant risk of DNA contamination in police custody. She warns that if guidance is not followed as a matter of urgency, contamination could compromise evidence or mislead the courts.
  • There is also a risk of contamination at Sexual Assault Referral Centres which provide support for alleged victims of rape and sexual assault. An investigation by the regulator is currently ongoing following a case last year when contamination at a center meant that a complainant’s samples could not be used.
  • The report found that forensic science carried out by instruction from defence lawyers has also been under significant financial pressure because of the current legal aid funding.
  • Police forces are required to reach the required standards for digital forensics by 2017. Although there has been a substantial effort within policing to assist forces in reaching the required standards for digital forensics, few will receive accreditation within the timeframe.
  • There is still a risk of incorrect classifications by investigators who classify firearms to establish whether they are illegal weapons.
  • There is a risk that some forensic medical examiners being commissioned do not have the required level of training and qualification.

The Forensic Science Regulator will continue to work with police and other agencies across the criminal justice system to improve quality of forensic science.