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Politicians decry forensic service closure

it's a crime.jpgBritain’s much-lambasted attempts to close its hugely respected state forensics body took another kicking today as MPs denounced the move as damaging to science and to justice.

The House of Commons science select committee also put the boot into a senior government science advisor, saying his acceptance of exclusion from the decision to close the Forensic Science Service (FSS) was “unacceptable”.

When the government announced it would wind up the FSS last year many forensic scientists warned that it would leave their already under-resourced discipline in dire straits, as the service has a strong history of research (see: Fears mount for forensic research). Now an inquiry by the select committee has sided with them, calling for the closure to be extended by at least six months past March 2012 while the government comes up with a proper strategy for forensic science.

“Although we are hesitant to call for increased research funding in the current economic climate, the case for increased public funding specifically for forensic science research is compelling. We consider that the Home Office and Research Councils have an interest in the health of the forensic science research base and should develop a new national research budget for forensic science,” says the committee’s report, released today.

It is not just the impact on research that concerns the committee MPs though.

The committee notes that no formal assessment was made of the impact of closing the FSS on research and that they have not seen any evidence of any kind of informal assessment. The chief scientist at the Home Office (which oversees FSS) has previously admitted he was not consulted about the closure (see: UK scientific advisor was not consulted over forensic service closure).

“We consider the CSA’s satisfaction with his exclusion from the decision-making process and his failure to challenge the decision to be unacceptable. This is a further demonstration of the ongoing weak scientific culture in the Home Office,” says the report.

It also warns of “great concern” that much of the work currently undertaken by the internationally respected FSS is likely to move to in-house police laboratories which are not accredited to the same quality standards. “We are of the view that the transfer of work from the FSS to a non-accredited police or private laboratory would be highly undesirable, as it would pose significant and unacceptable risks to criminal justice,” it notes.

See also – Nature’s ‘Courtroom drama’ editorial from March.

Image: photo by Alan Cleaver via Flickr under Creative Commons.


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