Forensic Science Service
Written evidence submitted by Cellmark Forensic Services (FSS 73)
Declaration of Interest
Cellmark Forensic Services (Orchid Cellmark Ltd) is a private forensic company currently working under contract with over 50% of the police forces in England and Wales. Cellmark provides forensic analytical services equivalent to those delivered by the Forensic Science Service from the provision of forensic scientists to support the police at crime scenes, to the delivery of a wide range of laboratory services. Our services range from specialist DNA testing to the provision of a comprehensive range of forensic techniques used in the investigation of serious offences (forensic casework). Cellmark employs approximately 350 people, primarily involved in forensic analysis, at our facilities in Abingdon, Oxfordshire and Chorley, Lancashire. Established in 1987 Cellmark has over two decades of experience of providing high quality forensic testing in the UK, accredited to international quality standards.
1. What will be the impact of the closure of the Forensic Science Service on forensic science and on the future development of forensic science in the UK?
The impact of the closure of the Forensic Science Service should be considered with regard to the short, medium and long term.
In the short term the main issues will be capacity. There is already a well developed forensic marketplace in England and Wales with a number of suppliers providing forensic services to meet clearly proscribed forensic requirements, to agreed and defined quality standards. Capacity already exists, or can be quickly developed, for a number of the services provided by the FSS (such as PACE DNA and crime scene DNA) while for other areas of forensic science, particularly those that are more labour dependant, capacity growth within private suppliers will need to be accelerated to replace the FSS and match police requirements. How and where forensic science is delivered has of course been changing in recent years with for example the involvement of the police in some aspects of the service delivery previously carried out by the FSS, the development of NABIS, and the transitioning of database functions to NPIA. Certainly this period will be challenging, but there is no reason why ‘forensic science’ should suffer if the wind-down is appropriately managed, particularly if the skills of those already within forensic science can be retained. Initial capacity constraints are likely to impact on the speed of service delivery in the short term, rather than on quality.
In the medium term it can be expected that the FSS capacity will be absorbed as the private market expands to meet police requirements. Police are likely to see efficiency and therefore pricing benefits as well as benefits in the speed of service delivery. What will have a significant impact on forensic science will be police expenditure in this area. If public sector cuts are disproportionately focused on external police spend, then the willingness of the private sector to invest and develop capacity may be limited. The private sector cannot be expected to invest in the replacement of the FSS capacity with high quality services, if it sees a limited long term future for this investment (should for example the police wish to develop their own equivalent services). What is not well documented or understood is the true value of forensic science in the investigative value chain. Understanding how forensic science can deliver cost savings elsewhere in the criminal justice process would help with expenditure decisions.
In the long term the development of forensic science will benefit from Government support, but need not suffer because of the absence of the FSS. We understand that the FSS was fortunate to receive a significant budget for R&D from HM Government in past years. Clearly this ring-fenced a degree of spending into the area of forensic science which should be encouraged for the future, and aligned with the requirements of the various customers of the criminal justice system. The private sector is quite capable of driving forensic innovation and indeed many of the analytical technology developments that forensic science has historically benefitted from have been made by the private sector, often for other, much larger market opportunities. The development of DNA profiling and the National DNA Database for example resulted largely from core technologies invented outside of the FSS (DNA fingerprinting, PCR, STR markers, automated genetic analysis, use of fluorescent markers). The private sector will continue to invest in service development to remain competitive. However the allocation of government funding to develop and transition technologies for forensic application should be encouraged, particularly when police expectation of forensic pricing is downwards.
Aside from issues already considered, we would also like to raise our concerns about the comments of some Members of Parliament in recent years regarding private forensic companies. No doubt anxious to protect their constituents in the public sector, some descriptions of private forensic companies, their motivations and abilities, have been mis-informed. We are concerned that this could lead to diminished public confidence in forensic science which would be to the detriment of the criminal justice system.
2. What will be the implications of the closure on the quality and impartiality of forensic evidence used in the criminal justice system?
We firmly believe that the closure of the FSS will not have any impact on the impartiality of forensic evidence, nor will it have any negative impact on its quality.
Forensic scientists in the private sector have exactly the same motivation to support the criminal justice system and the victims of crime as those in the public sector (it is worth remembering that although the origins of the FSS were in the public sector it has, since 2005, effectively been a private company, albeit owned by the Government). The majority of the experienced reporting forensic scientists in the private sector worked at some time within the FSS. Their ethics, and impartiality are independent of the organisation for whom they work and ultimately, when they stand in the witness box to provide evidence they are representing themselves rather then the company that employs them.
With regard to quality, all forensic work, when tendered through the NFFA, requires compliance with the pre-determined quality and accreditation standards, documented on each product specification document. In general the requirement is for forensic services to be delivered within ISO 17025 accreditation, which is in line with the Forensic Regulator’s Codes of Practice.
It is perhaps interesting to consider that reducing police budgets are more likely to have a greater impact on the delivery of forensic science than the choice of accredited forensic provider.
3. What is the financial position of the Forensic Science Service?
We have no other information other than that publically available from Companies House (Annual Accounts).
4. 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?
We have already given our input into the recent PwC report which analysed the state of the forensics market in the UK in detail and have received a redacted copy of this report from NPIA. We also note the written response to Parliamentary Questions given by James Brokenshire on 1 Feb 2011 "The police assessment is that the external forensics market will continue to fall over the next few years, as forces seek to maximise efficiencies in this area. This advice, based on the advice from the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) and others, suggests that this market will reduce from £170 million in 2009 towards around £110 million by 2015."
We are firmly of the opinion that the private sector has the capability to carry out the work currently performed by the FSS and as one of the NFFA suppliers we have been involved with discussions with the Operation Slingshot team with respect to the capacity requirements for different services. It is certainly the case that capacity for some analytical services is more straightforward to provide than others, but given an adequate transition process and realistic timeline this work can all be carried out as well as or indeed with better service levels than the FSS.
5. What are the alternatives to winding-down the Forensic Science Service?
We are not in a position to comment on this.
6. So far as they are known, are the arrangements for closing down the Forensic Science Service, making staff redundant and selling its assets adequate?
We are lacking some of the detail of the exact capacity requirements, mechanism for transferring work under procurement contracts and timeframes. The issue of TUPE does give some cause for concern as it has the potential to impact on the commercial viability of the transfer of certain areas of work from the FSS to private companies. As far as we are aware, the FSS asset register has yet to be published.
David Hartshorne, Commercial Director
Roger Derbyshire, Operations Director
Cellmark Forensic Services
14 February 2011
|©Parliamentary copyright||Prepared 21st February 2011|