Science & Environment

Proposal to boost forensic regulator

Forensics officer dusting for fingerprints
Image caption The government was responding to a recent report on forensics in England and Wales

The government has launched a consultation over plans to strengthen the powers of the forensic regulator's office in England and Wales.

Currently, the regulator sets standards for forensic science services, but has no statutory, or legislative, powers.

Under the proposals, the regulator's office would be placed on a statutory basis and be handed the authority to investigate breaches in quality.

The government plan is outlined in its response to a recent Commons inquiry.

In July, the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee published its report into the provision of forensic science since the closure of the Forensic Science Service in 2012.

In its response, the government defended its rationale for shutting down the service, which had employed some 1,600 people to analyse crime scene evidence.

The service had been losing money. But in its July report, the committee had criticised the decision, claiming that the statistic used (that the FSS was losing £2m per month) was flawed and that the government had not considered additional costs incurred as a result of the closure - for example, those to police forces.

In its response, the government defended its position, arguing that the logic behind the shut down "was based on accurate financial information and has delivered value for money to the police as well as addressing the unacceptable company losses being funded by the taxpayer".

It also said that adherence to quality standards on a voluntary basis had been effective up until now.

But it acknowledged that the UK's opt-out from a European Council framework decision could cause voluntary compliance to become ineffective. The European ruling, known as 2009/905/JHA, in effect prevents laboratories not accredited to the quality standard known as ISO 17025 from undertaking work that leads to either a DNA profile or fingerprint data.

And it also said that adoption of the forensic regulator's standards by defence forensic providers had been more difficult.

The government expects to decide on the outcome of the consultation following the appointment of the next forensic regulator in early 2014.

The current holder of the position is Andrew Rennison.

More on this story