ISO 17025 is being forced on the labs performing forensic testing. The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee has been considering the issues. While scientists have been slow to recognise the limitations of the cartel’s inspection system, a QC has spotted the problem.
His criticism is correct for the ISO 9000 series. The UKAS response is also correct: ISO 17025 does go well beyond administration. However, it claims that this extra bureaucracy is worthwhile remain unproven.
We know that accredited labs produce results that are sometimes categorically different. Courts risk being misled if they trust in accreditation as a shortcut to weighing the evidence as courts have done historically. If accreditation really guaranteed anything, UKAS could be sued for errors by labs they accredited. That they share no liability shows the worthlessness of accreditation.
The cartel validates its proprietary inspection system through peer review by inspectors with the same philosophical viewpoint. Never from outside this worldview itself. This is why we need an impartial judicial review of the imposition of accreditation on so many organisations.
Are the judge and jury free to judge or must they sit under the inspectors?
56. In contrast to the views of most other interested parties, witnesses representing the legal profession were less enthusiastic about the value added by ISO 17025 accreditation. Mr Turner QC stated that ISO 17025 “does not guarantee anything” other than that FSPs “have passed a test as to whether their administration is up to scratch”. He did not consider that it guaranteed “the quality of the evidence that they give”. Ms Squibb-Williams stated that:
From a prosecution perspective […] there is more confidence to be had where a laboratory or provider has been through independent assessment of their processes, because that is all 17025 is. It is not going to address anything to do with the criminal justice system, but it is a health check on the quality of their processes—their admin, if you like—how they do what they do and how they account for what they do. In particular, 17025 requires that proper records are kept. From the criminal justice system perspective, proper records equals good continuity.
Mr Atkinson explained that“it is difficult on an objective basis for lawyers to be able to evaluate the competence and skills of a forensic scientist” and admitted that “until my intended appearance before this Committee, the existence of ISO 17025 was, I am afraid to say, unknown to me”. He added that:
Being aware of exactly what the necessary […] kitemarks are and standards that are to be achieved is very difficult for lawyers. It is very much a case of going either on experts that you have used in the past and your experience of them, or recommendations that will come from other lawyers and counsel, who will have had a broader experience as well.
These comments on ISO 17025 provoked responses from UKAS and the FSR. UKAS wrote to us after the evidence session stating that: UKAS accreditation to ISO/IEC 17025 not only provides authoritative assurance of the technical competence of a laboratory to undertake specified analyses but also reviews particular aspects relevant to the Criminal Justice System, for example, continuity of evidence, management of case files and storage of exhibits. Accreditation determines the competence of staff, the validity and suitability of methods, the appropriateness of equipment and facilities, and the ongoing assurance and confidence in outcomes through internal quality control.
It is therefore incorrect to say (as was stated at the evidence session on 13 February 2013) that UKAS accreditation provides an assurance of good administration only. It is our view that accreditation to ISO/IEC 17025 does provide an assurance of ‘good science’. Accreditation to ISO/IEC 17025 demonstrates the technical competence and impartiality of the laboratory with respect to its defined scope of accredited activity.
Mr Rennison, the FSR, remarked that the Criminal Bar Association and the Law Society “have had seats at my advisory council for over four and a half years” and that despite showing an interest in involvement, “they have never attended”. He expressed his commitment to ensuring that such organisations would “remain invited to the central table where quality standards are discussed”.
Lawyers should not be duped that an accreditation certificate can take the place of thorough courtroom examination.