Judicial criticism of Forensic Science Service despite UKAS quality

The BBC reports dysfunctional delays in the delivery of forensic services despite (and partly because of) UKAS accreditation:

“20 July 2011 Last updated at 15:45

Judge says NI criminal cases held up by forensic delays

Criminal cases in Northern Ireland are being held up by failures in processing forensic work on time, according to a High Court judge.

Mr Justice Weir described some of the current arrangements as “dysfunctional”.

He said police should send work to England if the situation cannot be improved.

He was speaking after being told forensic evidence was outstanding in a case involving the seizure of heroin.

The drugs valued at up to £350,000, were found in a suitcase in a Newry hotel room last August.

Kevin Gerard McKenna was arrested following the seizure.

The 33-year-old, of Lower Culmore, Foxford, County Mayo, is charged with being concerned in the supply of Class A drugs.

His barrister told a bail hearing that no forensic evidence has been produced to link a car he was allegedly driving to the hotel room where a co-accused was said to have been.


She argued that Mr McKenna has been in custody for nearly a year, and claimed proceedings could be further delayed due to outstanding forensic material.

Mr Justice Weir, who heard the application, commented: “So many of these cases are delayed by the failure to get on with timely examination of these items.”

Pointing to the availability of forensic science facilities in England, he said: “I don’t know why we persist in trying to get this Northern Ireland facility to perform for us.”

The judge said he was not prepared to grant bail due to concerns about Mr McKenna’s ties with Northern Ireland.

He ruled that the application should be adjourned until after a planned preliminary enquiry hearing next month.

“Sooner or later the police are going to have to get the people at the forensic laboratory under control,” the judge added.

“If they can’t do that they are going to have to send the work to England.”

The judge said that the current situation delayed prosecutions and was unfair to everyone involved, including the accused.”

When the results don’t arrive in the first place, the judiciary cannot be falsely assured by the UKAS logo the reports might carry.  

The burden of ISO accreditation also slips below the radar of this account of the problems in The Detail.  But don’t blame the journalists if the forensic senior managers don’t recognise UKAS accreditation as part of the problem.

But all is not well with the Forensic Science Service in England either.  

Sir Alec Jeffreys, the pioneer of DNA fingerprinting at Leicester University, told MPs on the committee that closing the FSS would “potentially disastrous” for UK forensic research and development. While the FSS has a track record for developing new forensic techniques, commercial laboratories focus almost exclusively on tried-and-trusted tests, he said.

The report adds: “Proper consideration should now be given to what resources might be irretrievably lost to the UK with the closure of the FSS, including the FSS’s archives and the intellectual wealth residing within its scientists. We have seen no detailed plan outlining the transition and the future of the FSS’s staff, archives, work and assets.””

As frequently is the case, reader comments are at least as interesting as the journalism.

What if Government were subject to accreditation and could therefore be endowed with the “quality” it demands of others?

Would it too self-destruct?

This entry was posted in Forensic science, Law, Management, Practical problems, Science and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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