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Forensic science minister slammed for ‘hands-off’ approach

By Mark Smulian | 25 July 2013

MPs have called for responsibility for forensic science services to be removed from the current minister who has come under unusually strong attack in a select committee report.

The Home Office closed the Forensic Science Service in March 2012 and it was replaced by police and private providers who struggle with a lack of research funds and unclear regulation.

Science and technology select committee members criticised the performance of Liberal Democrat crime prevention minister Jeremy Browne, and called for responsibility for forensic science to be transferred to the policing and criminal justice minister, who has a joint role across the Home Office and Ministry for Justice.

‘We are extremely concerned that the minister currently responsible for forensic science appeared to have so little understanding of the subject,’ the MPs said in their report, published today.

‘In his oral evidence to this inquiry he responded to most of our questions with inexact analogies, rhetorical questions and politically divisive or vague comments.

‘Even with some allowance for the minister’s relative newness to the role, we do not have confidence that forensic science is receiving the attention it deserves at ministerial level.’

Committee chair Andrew Miller said: ‘Unfortunately the current minister doesn’t think [forensic science] needs a strategy, instead preferring a hands-off approach.

‘This is the type of thinking that led to the creation of an unstable forensics market, which led to the demise of the Forensic Science Service and now threatens the success of remaining private forensic science providers.’

The report said the government had been slow to recognise the wider costs of the service’s closure to the criminal justice system, while a lack of transparency over total police expenditure on forensic science ‘exacerbated this uncertainty’.

Miller said the role and powers of the forensic science regulator remained unclear in a system with disparate providers.

‘We have reiterated our previous call for the government to bring forward proposals for statutory powers for the regulator,’ he said.

‘There must be a level playing field and in particular the police should work to the same standards as they demand from private providers.’

The lack of a strategy for forensic science risked ‘continuing the pattern of short-sighted decision-making that led to the demise of the FSS and the creation of an unstable market’, the report said.

It also meant funding for research and development was patchy, meaning the UK would ‘struggle to maintain its excellent reputation in forensic science’.

A Home Office spokesman said: ‘We will ensure [police] forces have access to the best possible forensics services to help ensure our record low levels of crime continue to fall.

‘Forensic provision is best served by a competitive market with companies competing to provide the best service.’

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