Forensic Science Service
Written evidence submitted by LGC Forensics (FSS 63)
LGC and LGC Forensics
1. LGC was founded almost 170 years ago as the Laboratory of the Government Chemist. It was privatised in 1996 and has since grown to become an international science-based company and market leader in forensic, analytical and diagnostic services and reference standards. LGC operates internationally through four divisions – LGC Forensics, LGC Standards, LGC Genomics and LGC Science & Technology. LGC is headquartered in London and employs over 1,400 staff in 28 laboratories and centres across Europe, India, China and the USA.
2. LGC Forensics has been operating in the forensic science market since 1991 and has grown to become the largest independent provider of forensic science services to police forces and other law enforcement agencies in the UK, with c.550 staff working across 8 facilities. LGC Forensics is a full service provider, being approved to tender for work under each of the 14 different lot areas in the National Forensics Framework Agreement ("NFFA"), under which tenders for forensic services are made.
3. LGC Forensics’ technical capability extends across the full breadth and depth of forensic science services, from high throughput analytical tests (such as DNA profiling and drug identifications), to complex casework involving hundreds of exhibits, to specialisms such as ballistics and digital and document forensics.
- In the high throughput market, LGC Forensics has made significant investments in a fully automated PACE DNA (DNA from mouth swabs) platform as well as an automated platform for DNA extraction for crime scene samples. In both cases, these investments have increased capacity and reduced the cost and time of analysis to the customer. For example, in PACE DNA, the market has seen price reductions of in excess of 35% over the past two years.
- In casework, LGC Forensics has played a pivotal role in a wide range of high profile re-investigations, including Rachel Nickell, Princess Diana and Damilola Taylor.
- The breadth of LGC Forensics’ offering has enabled us to support even niche areas of expertise in forensic science, while other parts of LGC Group also provide additional support to our forensics work. For example, our audio-visual team provided key evidence in the Rhys Jones case and, working with our Science and Technology Division, we contributed to the Alexander Litvinenko polonium poisoning case.
4. LGC Forensics has a wide breadth of customers: we have worked with every police force in the UK as well as UK Government agencies including MoD, DWP and HMRC, while internationally we have worked with a range of overseas governments and law enforcement agencies. LGC Forensics currently has c. 20% of the external police forensics market in England and Wales.
5. LGC Forensics’ track record demonstrates an unparalleled breadth and depth of scientific capability in forensic science, combined with a commitment to meet the exacting technical and commercial demands of our customers. We are proud to be a key partner to the UK Criminal Justice System ("CJS"), providing trusted services with recognised expertise and professionalism, helping to maintain the UK’s worldwide pre-eminence in forensic science.
6. The forensic science market is only one of a number of areas where LGC provides scientific support to the UK Government. Through our Science & Technology Division, for example, we are the UK’s designated National Measurement Institute for chemical and biochemical analysis, the National Reference Laboratory for a range of key areas, and also the host organisation for the UK’s Government Chemist function. The capabilities of the LGC Group provide a rich source of innovation for forensic science, including the core technology behind our RapiDNA development (covered in more detail in paragraph 15 below).
7. We are answering questions 1, 2, 4 and 5. We are not in a position to answer questions 3 and 6.
8. The closure of the FSS will not damage the prospects for forensic science in the UK so long as its wind-down is properly implemented and is used by the Government as an opportunity to support a properly regulated market of a sufficient size to enable competition between dedicated market participants, as well as to support investments in efficiency and innovation.
9. Over the past decade, successive policy developments have led to the opening up of the UK forensic science market to independent providers, culminating in the North West, South West and Wales ("NWSWW") pilot tender in 2007-08 and the NFFA which was established shortly thereafter. The clear policy direction and market framework which emerged through this period was a critical precondition for LGC Forensics and other independent providers to invest in developing competing operations to the FSS.
10. The emergence of competitors to the FSS has delivered a wide range of benefits, including:
- significant cost savings to police forces. The December 2009 Home Office paper Protecting the Public: Supporting the Police to Succeed made the following comments about the NFFA: "Early indications are that forces save 10% on DNA services and around 12-15% on drugs services. The total forecast benefit from 2008/09 – 2012/13 is over £15m, with some £4m from reducing transaction costs and some £11m on cost reduction e.g. through better pricing.";
- significant acceleration of detection rates through reductions in turnaround times (from several weeks to a few days) and the emergence of a standardised performance framework around turnaround times; and
- the regularisation of work types, facilitating consistency of service and competitive benchmarking of providers against each other (e.g. on DNA success rates, which measure the ability of competing providers to extract a DNA profile from a sample type).
Protecting the Public concludes that "The NFFA . . . has reformed the way in which . . . [forensic analysis] services are procured. It is improving the Service and saving money."
11. The benefits of a competitive market are best illustrated by a comparison with other countries which persist with failing public sector monopoly provision. These include Germany and the USA, both of which have mounting backlogs of thousands of unsolved cases, long turnaround times of more than 6 weeks and escalating costs.
12. Given the benefits cited above, it is imperative that the closure of the FSS is not allowed to interrupt the virtuous circle of clear policy direction, leading to increased private sector investment, leading to improved outcomes for the UK CJS.
13. If this danger is to be avoided, it is critical to ensure that the wind-down of the FSS leaves a market which is of a sufficient size to both attract continued private sector investment and to support a number of significant market participants. Against this backdrop, the Minister’s recent confirmation of ACPO and HMIC advice that the external market will contract from £170 million to £110 million by 2015  gives cause for concern.
14. We note that the external market currently only represents a small proportion of the wider UK forensic science market – extending from recovery of evidence from the scene of a crime to the presentation of evidence in court – which is estimated to be worth c.£340m to £360m in England and Wales. Opening up this wider market to competition would be a positive step towards incentivising continued private sector investment in the market. Moreover, we believe that such a step would deliver significant savings to police forces, through introducing more efficient working practices.
15. Critical ongoing investment into research and development will also be safeguarded if the market is of a sufficient size. In the current financial year, LGC Forensics is investing c.10% of turnover on research and development to ensure that we are at the very forefront of innovation in forensic science. This includes the development of RapiDNA - a revolutionary system for DNA profiling at a crime scene. This innovation will reduce the time taken to identify suspects from 3 days to less than an hour, which will have a dramatic effect not only on the speed, but also the cost of crime detection. The development of RapiDNA represents a multi-million pound investment for LGC Forensics.
16. We value the contribution of the academic sector to research and development in forensic science and, indeed, we work closely with a number of universities and institutes. However this cannot replace the value derived from our knowledge of practical applications and the challenges of applying this research in the field.
17. It is also critical to ensure that all market participants – in both the public and private sectors – are competing on a level playing field. It will be difficult to attract further private sector investment in the market while there remains a perceived risk that one state subsidised market participant (the FSS) is being replaced by another (in the shape of in-sourced provision from police forces) and while there continues to be a discrepancy in the quality standards which apply to independent providers and public sector providers. Further information on this is provided below.
18. It is important that the transfer of work from the FSS utilises the spare capacity available in the private sector, in order to avoid unnecessary over-capacity and therefore, cost in the market.
What will be the implications of the closure on the quality and impartiality of forensic evidence used in the criminal justice system?
19. We believe that, assuming the process is handled properly, the closure of the FSS will not affect the quality of forensic science support to the UK CJS.
20. The private sector already has the expertise, the experience and the intellectual capital to take on the work of the FSS. Indeed, recent forensic science contract awards have been made based on a thorough evaluation of the technical and commercial capability of competing providers. It is only through competing with the FSS on both technical and commercial grounds that independent providers have been able to win work. For example, when all providers were scored on their technical and commercial capabilities during the setting up of the NFFA, LGC Forensics achieved the highest total score in the technical category. This clearly illustrates that there is no quality compromise involved in transferring work from the FSS to other private sector providers.
21. Each of LGC Forensics’ laboratories is accredited to the quality standard ISO 9001 and the laboratory standard ISO 17025 for forensic science (the latter involves not only the accreditation of the laboratories, but the individual methods used in them). In total, LGC Forensics has ISO 17025 accreditation for 87 methods across 6 laboratories covering the full range of forensic disciplines. This extensive scope of accreditation is amongst the broadest in the world.
22. However, in order to ensure that the closure of the FSS does not impact the quality of forensic evidence used in the criminal justice system, it is critically important to have a level playing field with respect to quality standards. Specifically:
- All forensic science service providers (police forces or independent providers) should be required to conform to ISO17025 immediately, rather than by 2015, as currently proposed by the Forensic Science Regulator.
- Likewise, any services or contracts currently undertaken by the FSS should only move to providers who have already met ISO 17025. In order to maintain the integrity of the industry during and immediately after the closure of the FSS, it is essential that there is no transfer of work from accredited to non-accredited environments.
23. In order to enforce adherence to the above, we believe that the role of the Forensic Science Regulator should be supported and strengthened in order that he can ensure adherence to quality standards and impartiality.
24. As to impartiality, Robert McFarland (who led an independent review of the Forensic Science Service for the Home Office in 2002-3) has observed that one potential outcome of the FSS’ wind-down is that the police undertake more forensic work "in-house". "One has to question whether it is right that the police are the sole arbiters of what scene of crime samples are sent for analysis and what discarded" Mr McFarland has written  . Noting that police forensic experts could appear in court as expert witnesses, he questions how this sits with the criminal procedure rules laid down following the review by Lord Justice Auld in 2001, which specify that the expert’s duty to the court overrides "any obligation to the person…by whom he is paid". Mr McFarland notes that "it is stretching credulity that this could remain meaningful if the expert owes his career to a police service which, in an adversarial court system, is intent on securing a conviction." We believe that Mr McFarland’s concerns merit close attention.
25. We also note that there has been considerable debate over the impartiality of forensic science in the United States, where most forensic work is currently performed in police laboratories. One authoritative study, commissioned by the National Academy of Sciences in 2009, recommended as follows, "The entity that is established to govern the forensic science community cannot be principally beholden to law enforcement. The potential for conflicts of interest between the needs of law enforcement and the broader needs of forensic science are too great." 
26. The Justice Project, also in the USA, was a response to a number of errors made in forensic science services in high profile cases. Among its conclusions, it recommended "independent transparent oversight" to enforce quality in forensics; a requirement to develop internal structures and policies to prevent bias in testing and analysis; and ensuring that all forensic laboratories are independent from law enforcement and prosecutorial agencies  .
What is the state of, and prospects for, the forensics market in the UK, specifically whether the private sector can carry out the work currently done by the Forensic Science Service and the volume and nature of the forensic work carried out by police forces?
27. The state of the forensics market in the UK is healthy in terms of the capacity and technical and commercial capability of external forensic science providers. Moreover, until recently, the NFFA gave independent providers significant visibility over the future evolution of the marketplace, enabling them to plan for the long term.
28. However, in the recent past, the external market has been characterised by a significant (c.20%) reduction in submissions, as police forces have responded to spending constraints by reducing external spend and in-sourcing work, often to unaccredited environments.
29. This reduction in submissions has had the effect of:
- catalysing a sharp contraction in the size of the external market, which now has significant over-capacity (i.e. excess supply over demand);
- reducing external providers’ profitability (and exacerbating the FSS’ operating losses); and
- undermining independent providers’ confidence in the current regulation (quality standards, level playing field) and future evolution (market size etc.) of the external market. This could lead to reluctance to invest in additional capacity and innovation.
30. One consequence of the recent reduction in police submissions is that there is currently significant excess capacity amongst external providers which is available to absorb work from the FSS.
31. LGC Forensics is carrying significant excess capacity across most of its service lines and particularly in the DNA and casework areas which together represent >70% of the external market.
32. It is worth noting that LGC Forensics and other independent providers have been working under the assumption that the NFFA would drive tenders from 29 police forces over the next two years. Consequently, we were already planning for a significant ramp-up in our activities prior to the 14th December Home Office announcement in relation to the closure of the FSS. For example, we not only increased our laboratory space in anticipation of growth through those tenders, but have also invested £3M in a laboratory information management system to handle the increase in forensic data and to drive efficiency across our laboratories.
33. LGC Forensics has considerable experience of responding rapidly to increased customer demand. For example, after the award of the NWSWW tender in 2008, LGC Forensics invested in new scientific equipment and recruited nearly 100 new scientific staff, doubling our casework capacity within six months. We are both willing and able to do the same again if required.
What are the alternatives to winding-down the Forensic Science Service?
34. LGC believes that the only alternative to winding down the FSS is to continue with the status quo, where FSS losses will continue to accelerate as it loses market share to independent providers. Given public funding constraints, we agree with the Government that it is not tenable for the FSS to continue to record significant operating losses when there are successful independent providers which offer the same range of services, under an accredited quality framework, at lower cost and without public subsidy.
35. There may be a temptation for police forces or regions to take over parts of FSS operations and sites, in order to assure local continuity and to attempt to reduce costs. In our opinion, this would not only fail to reduce costs, but would seriously threaten the viability of the market as a whole and therefore national provision.
14 February 2011
 Hansard, 1 st February 2011, Col. 689W
 Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States : A Path Forward , 2009
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