In the Media

Closing this pioneering unit is a foolish, short-sighted act | Observer editorial

PUBLISHED February 12, 2012

Losing the Forensic Science Service could lead to increases in miscarriages of justice

Over the past two decades, the Forensic Science Service has pioneered technologies that have led to the conviction of hundreds of killers, rapists and other violent offenders. It inaugurated the world's first national DNA database in 1995, while its scientists have developed a variety of techniques for identifying individuals from the tiniest scraps of tissue or sweat. Criminals who have evaded justice for decades have been convicted. For its pains, the FSS is to be closed next month.

The government's justification was that the service was losing up to ?2m a month. Let private companies and in-house police department laboratories do the job instead, it has decreed. "There is no reason why the closure of the FSS will reduce impartiality," adds James Brokenshire, minister for crime at the Home Office.

It is a straightforward argument, but there are several reasons to believe it is deeply flawed. Consider the issue of impartiality. The FSS gave objective results to forensic examinations, sometimes at odds with police expectations. Under the new systems, detectives will find it much easier to persuade forensic scientists to provide results that suit their cases, experts have warned. In one survey ? of 365 forensic scientists, published in New Scientist ? more than 75% said they thought the new system would lead to increases in miscarriages of justice.

Then there is the issue of resources. The FSS provided its scientists with time and money to develop new DNA techniques, including low copy number profiling that can pinpoint individuals from microscopic crime scene samples. Now the main mechanism for providing this support has been removed.

As the pioneer of DNA fingerprinting Sir Alec Jeffreys has asked: "Who will provide expertise for complex investigations? and who will develop and refine new technologies?" The answer, sadly, is no one. In closing the FSS, the government has acted with considerable folly. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds