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Government defends forensic service closure

The British government has defended its decision to close a world leading forensics agency, following fierce criticism from a cross-party group of politicians.

When the closure of the UK’s Forensic Science Service was announced last year many researchers were deeply concerned (see: Fears mount for forensic research). A report from Parliament’s science select committee was also highly critical of the decision.

Home Office chief scientific adviser Bernard Silverman admitted in the wake of the closure that he had not been consulted on the decision to close the world famous service (see: UK scientific advisor was not consulted over forensic service closure). The committee was critical both of the Home Office, for not consulting him, and Silverman himself, for his “failure to challenge the decision”.

“We strongly reject the criticism of his role,” says the government’s response, published today. It also states, “We refute the suggestion that the Home Office has a poor attitude towards science.”

A major concern among forensics experts – and of the committee – was the fate of the FSS archive, which includes case files, research notes and samples. While the government’s response says it has “agreed” that the archive will continue to operate after March 2012 it has not come up with a long term solution, and notes that options are being considered.

The Home Office commissioned a review of forensics R&D from Silverman after announcing the closure. This suggested that the UK’s research councils could make funding forensics a priority and that there should be better coordination between the various players in the field.

In its response the government agrees that forensics should be made a research council strategic priority but commits only to implementing the review recommendations “where it can”. The response also appears to rule out any major government intervention, saying, “However, it is important that the forensic science community take stronger ownership of developing their research and co-ordinating their priorities – as happens in other research fields.”

The government response notes a number of “primary objectives” for the transition between FSS and no-FSS. Research does not merit a mention among these (which are supply of effective forensics to criminal justice system; value for money to taxpayer; and healthy market for forensics). The government’s hope is that a healthy commercial market will involve private forensics providers conducting research.

Andrew Miller, chairman of the science select committee, said in a statement, “[I]t is disappointing that the Home Office has failed to recognise that the decision to close the FSS should not have been taken purely on commercial and legal grounds, but also on scientific grounds. … I will be asking the committee to keep a close eye on the transition as I still fear that the forensic science research base and criminal justice system could be jeopardised if the Minister’s optimism is ill-founded.”


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