Monday, February 20, 2012

FSS Closure: Forensics on trial

From the UK's Justice Gap blog: "... The Law Society also expressed concern about the maintenance of quality standards and accreditation. Of particular concern was ‘the risk that unqualified and unaccredited police laboratory staff’ would screen materials before sending on fior expert analysis. Such laboratory staff are not required to comply with accreditation standards (namely ISO 17025) and are not covered by the Forensic Science Regulator. ‘Given the need for police forces to reduce expenditure, we are concerned that there is likely to be a reduction in the number of investigations where forensic science is used. That would cause a contraction in the forensic science market leading to reduced areas of expertise. It would also increase the likelihood of miscarriages of justice and the failure of the justice system to provide justice to victims.’ ‘We are going back to practice in the 1970s when I ended up paying out of my own pocket for forensic scientists to do work for me because we could not get work done under a legal aid certificate.’ Alasdair Logan, the defence lawyer who acted in the Guildford 4 and Maguire 7 cases and who sits on the Law Society’s human rights committee.

The CCRC, in evidence prepared for the House of Commons’ science and technology committee, argued that it its closure would ‘undoubtedly lead to miscarriages of justice not being corrected’.

Under the Criminal Appeal Act 1995, section 17 the CCRC has sweeping powers to obtain material held by public bodies and that includes files, materials and samples held by the FSS. Since 2005 it has requested that the FSS preserve or make available material on at least 150 occasions. It has no such power to recover such material from private providers. Shockingly the Commission wasn’t even consulted on its closure. The CCRC has agreed with a clause in the framework agreement which governs the contracts for the provision of private forensic services which, according to case review manager group leader Matt Humphrey, ‘replicates the section 17 powers’. ‘Obviously a contractual right is second best to a statutory power,’ he commented. He said that the CCRC was ‘actively discussing’ the possibility of statutory powers with the MoJ ..."

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