Science and Technology CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by Professor Sue Black
My rationale for offering a view is that I am a specialist expert witness in forensic anthropology who is called upon to assist in casework throughout the UK and therefore I am able to offer a comparative perspective with the landscape of working in Scotland.
1. The answer to this question is a resounding no. The level of investment in R&D within the UK as a whole is pitiful. There is no robust forensic research strategy within RCUK and much research that purports to operate under the ‘forensic’ banner is substandard. My research funding (currently around 5 million Euros) is all EU based or I have emergent research which is classified as ‘unfunded’ which is frowned upon by the University. The costs for this are subsidised through my income from casework through the grace that the University gives me to do so. This is not a common picture for many academics. There is no governmental support and there is limited provider support in this area. Compared to the current US investment in forensic science the UK is unquestionably falling very far behind on the global market.
2. I am not in a position to comment.
3. I admit to being aware of no effect on R&D as the level of investment has always been low. I have of late been very conscious of some very poor standard procedural and analytical work with some providers but whether this can be laid at the door of the FSS closure is not clear.
4. The Forensic Regulator’s role is vital. With a market open now to commercially driven providers and in-house police provision, his office is the key to maintaining and driving standards. He is however hampered by an inexplicable lack of mandatory powers and I believe these are vital if we are to maintain any credibility in the quality of our output in the global market.
5. I cannot comment on the size but in terms of stability there is a clear distinction between the North and the South. The landscape within the North which has SPSA forensic provision is stable and progressive. South of the border there appears to be a very budget driven approach to provision, rather than Justice driven. This makes working in the English sector feel quite alien and at times very uncomfortable. We have been brought in by police now on several English cases to consider the work of the providers and in some of these instances there have been quite considerable disagreements. I am uncomfortable about being used as a benchmark in this way and it was not something that occurred prior to FSS closure. Whether this is a symptom of a changing market or of the closure, I do not feel qualified to have an opinion upon.
6. Procurement for my services, which are specialised, tend to come directly from the Police in England and Wales. Often this comes through recommendation from the advisory sector of NPIA who are absolutely vital to the police in terms of finding the ‘less obvious’ expert or for advising them to think differently about their investigation strategy. I am recruited in the South through defence providers but as both major crown providers have in team anthropologists, I tend not to be involved in their work unless brought in through cold case review or to oversee reports. As a collective group of specialists (forensic anthropology) we are in the process of self-directing our professionalization and accreditation process through the Royal Anthropological Institute as our professional body. The role of the Regulator in this process has been vital and we need to not only keep our focus clearly on standards and procedures but also on our experts.
7. Yes I do think this has happened. There are several practitioners who have either gone into early retirement or moved abroad—Australia seems to be popular. Some have unquestionably been retained within UK organisations and so I think this diaspora has been mixed.
8. I am not in a position to comment.