My Lords, I pay tribute to my honourable friend the Member for Bristol North West, Mr Darren Jones, for his success in the Private Member’s Bill ballot and for skilfully navigating his Bill through the other place. I was delighted when he asked me to sponsor the Bill in this House and I hope, with the help of noble Lords, to navigate the Bill on to the statute book in the remaining weeks of this Session of Parliament. It has cross-party support and government support, so I hope that will help with its progress.
The purpose of the Bill is quite simple: it gives the Forensic Science Regulator the statutory powers to undertake its work. I hope that we all agree that the work of the regulator is vital for the proper functioning of our criminal justice system. It is vital for victims, defendants and members of the public so that victims and defendants get the justice they deserve and that the public can have the confidence that the forensic evidence presented in court of is of a quality and standard to deliver that justice.
The situation at present has several problems and failures, and the Bill is a first step in seeking to address those by enabling the regulator to enforce effective standards. Forensic science is constantly evolving and includes an ever-growing list of disciplines such as drug and toxicology analysis, ballistics and firearms analysis, fingerprint and footprint analysis, DNA extraction and comparison, crime scene examination, document examination, computer forensics and physical anthropology. We need experts to undertake the work necessary in a way that is accurate, reliable, unambiguous, clear, and straightforward.
The regulator’s report last year contained a passage that sets out why the Bill is so necessary. The passage reads:
“Courts should not have to judge whether this expert or that expert is ‘better’, but rather there should be a clear explanation of the scientific basis and data from which conclusions are drawn, and any relevant limitations. All forensic science must be conducted by competent forensic scientists, according to scientifically valid methods and be transparently reported, making very clear the limits of knowledge and/or methodology.”
If that is not the case then the risks are serious and devastating to people: the exoneration of the guilty and the imprisonment of the innocent. Both those scenarios are not only a failure to deliver justice but also miscarriages of justice. We get failures of process and of procedure through shortfalls in skills, in training, in expertise and funding. That not only risks isolated miscarriages of justice but puts the integrity of the whole system in jeopardy. This is a profession where robust, enforceable mandatory quality standards must be in place for the providers of forensic science services, along with an oversight regime with the independence and resources to do the job effectively and give confidence to the public.
The office of the Forensic Science Regulator was established in 2007, tasked with delivering standards, ensuring the quality of the providers and processes, assessing the soundness of the scientific techniques and monitoring the competence of the individuals carrying them out. But, in its present form, the regulator can only encourage, support and request that providers and police forces, which undertake a range of forensic science activities in-house, seek accreditation. Here is the problem that this Bill is seeking to deal with: the office of the Forensic Science Regulator cannot compel compliance, as it operates a voluntary model of regulation. Therefore, in its present form, it lacks the power to enforce compliance and deliver change where necessary.
The case for statutory powers is one that the Government have been committed to for several years. Committees of both this House and the other place have called for the Forensic Science Regulator to be given statutory powers. The Science and Technology Committee of the other place said last year that
“the Regulator—now more than ever—needs statutory powers.”
The Science and Technology Committee of this noble House said last year that
“It is hard to understand why … the Forensic Science Regulator still lacks powers they need … The Forensic Science industry is in trouble; such action is now urgent.”
The Home Office commissioned a review of the provision of forensic science, which identified a growing perception of the risk of unsafe forensic evidence, which should worry all noble Lords in this debate. Some noble Lords may question whether statutory powers are really needed—can it not be effective using the powers it already has? In response, I draw noble Lords’ attention to the fact that the powers presently in place have been there since 2007, and that the conclusion of the regulator itself, the Government, committees of both Houses of Parliament and others is that the voluntary processes have not been successful in delivering the consistency of standards that is necessary. After nearly 14 years, statutory enforcement powers are now needed. Where the regulator has introduced codes of practice and they have not been followed, it has no powers to enforce compliance.
Let us be clear: some of these codes of practice have been in co-ordination with the Home Office, but that makes no difference either. It is unacceptable for this important part of our criminal justice system to be in this condition—weak and unable to deliver the change, standards and enforcement necessary.
Look at violent sexual crimes. We are all aware of and horrified by how low the conviction rates are. These cases often rely on DNA evidence, which is often critical to the prosecution’s case. We must have processes and procedures in place that ensure that, no matter where the detailed scientific work is undertaken, the risk of contamination of the sample is minimised. But, if one looks at the regulator’s report in 2016, it highlights the problem of DNA swabs being compromised through unrelated case handling. That is why we have to move the regulator on to a statutory footing.
The public expect the highest standards and a regime in place to enforce them. We owe it to the victims of crime to deliver those standards and to those accused of crimes that, whether they are guilty or innocent, if the evidence presented against them involves forensic evidence, it has been prepared to the highest standards to deliver justice. This Bill does not fix all the problems, but it is a step in the right direction. I look forward to the debate that will follow and I beg to move.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, for introducing the Bill, which I warmly welcome as an important step in ensuring the quality, consistency and integrity of our forensic sciences across England and Wales.
The Forensic Science Regulator—FSR—has been calling for statutory powers for many years to ensure that, through its codes of practice, there is a level playing field within the forensic science sector in respect of quality. Experience has shown that it can often take statutory powers to ensure that this is achieved. For example, the statutory requirements in the Accreditation of Forensic Service Providers Regulations 2018 for fingerprints and DNA have resulted in a significant increase in the levels of accreditation, as opposed to other forensic activities, such as digital forensics, where no such requirement exists. It is therefore imperative for the sake of our criminal justice system that the Forensic Science Regulator is granted the statutory powers contained within the Bill to ensure that quality and impartiality are enshrined throughout forensic science.
At this point, I should declare an interest as the chair of the UK’s national accreditation body—UKAS. It is the sole national body recognised by the Government for the accreditation of organisations against nationally or internationally recognised standards. UKAS has worked with the Forensic Science Regulator since the role was created. The FSR sees accreditation as being an essential part of the regulatory framework to ensure technical competence and consistency across the mixed economy that now exists for the provision of forensic science services.
Many of the FSR codes of practice and conduct therefore include this need for forensic service providers and police forces to be accredited to the relevant international standards by specified deadlines. However, as noted by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, without the statutory powers included in the Bill, many providers have lacked the incentive to meet the regulator’s deadlines, and many of these deadlines have subsequently been missed. This has resulted in an uneven patchwork of accredited and non-accredited forensic services, with the inevitable consequence that the quality of service provision across the forensics landscape will be inconsistent.
In its most recent annual report published in January, the regulator noted how the adoption of quality standards underpinned by accreditation in areas such as fingerprint comparison has resulted in a number of significant improvements, including evidence of the competence of experts, the generation of validation studies, improved note-taking and the introduction of quality assurance mechanisms.
In conclusion, by further empowering the regulator, this legislation will drive a culture of continuous improvement and a commitment to quality, competence and impartiality across forensic science provision. I therefore look forward to supporting the Bill throughout its remaining stages.
My Lords, I am pleased to support the Bill and congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, on bringing it to the House and the brilliant way in which he introduced it. I also congratulate the Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Trafford. I know she has been trying hard to get such legislation on the statute book. The noble Baroness and her officials had several meetings with me and other noble Lords in late 2019, and there was a government intention to bring forward similar legislation to the Bill today, but events overtook her plans.
I accept that the Bill before us goes a long way to putting the Forensic Science Regulator’s role on the statute book, and the powers given to the regulator go a significant way to improving the delivery of proper guidance in relation to the use of forensic science in the criminal justice system, but serious gaps remain. The Science and Technology Committee which I chair identified several areas which need attention. The Bill today is a missed opportunity for the Government to address other issues in relation to forensic science and its use in the criminal justice system. The quality and delivery of forensic science in England and Wales are inadequate. In March 2019, the regulator issued a warning in a report in relation to funding and governance.
Currently, the regulator works 3.75 days a week. Is the regulator expected to be a full-time role, and what would the annual budget be? Is it expected that, as the role expands, the Home Office will increase the budget accordingly? Is the Minister able to say what role the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice will play in the governance of the forensic science service to the criminal justice system? Currently there is a lack of leadership.
What role will the regulator have in addressing the increasingly dysfunctional market of provision of forensic services? How will the statutory powers of the regulator help bolster the quality of forensic science? Research and development in forensic science is underresourced and lacks co-ordination. The UK used to be regarded as the world leader in forensic science technologies and innovation; we are now regarded as a place where not to look. Once such example is digital forensics; I hope the noble Baroness, Lady Young, may have more to say on that subject.
Today, the Second Reading of a Private Member’s Bill, is not the time to explore with the Minister the wider and important issues relating to the provision of forensic services in England and Wales. I hope that we will have that opportunity soon. However, I also hope that the statutory powers that the Bill gives to the Forensic Science Regulator will enable us to address the long-standing, deep-rooted challenges that need to be met if the provision of forensic science in this country is once again to be world leading. In conclusion, I support the Bill and wish it a speedy passage.
My Lords, I was a member of the Science and Technology Committee that the noble Lord, Lord Patel, chaired so well. That called for a statutory basis for the Forensic Science Regulator, along with many other previous reports, so I too support this long-overdue Bill and the sanctioning powers that it gives the statutory regulator. I thank my noble friend Lord Kennedy for sponsoring it. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Patel, said, the Bill is not enough. I will touch on two issues.
Our report outlined dangerous flaws in the forensic science market: the instability of larger providers, the patchiness in availability of specialists and niche providers, and the lack of a strategic overview of future skills and staff requirements. Although a specialist team was set up within the Forensic Capability Network to manage and develop the market, it tended to focus on procurement co-ordination rather than broader market issues, so there is still a major challenge for the forensic science market.
In their response to our Science and Technology Committee report, the Government undertook to
“study other models of regulation”
but we have not yet seen the results of any such studies. The Government recognised that there is a
“strong relationship between price and quality”
and market stability and that there is
“an argument to be made for specific market regulation”.
There are plenty of other examples of regulators which consider both quality and market stability: the Care Quality Commission, which I chaired, in the care sector; Ofwat in the water sector; and Ofgem in the energy sector, to name but a few. I hope that the Government can be persuaded to give this combined role to the new statutory Forensic Science Regulator once that position is established.
The noble Lord, Lord Patel, highlighted an issue in another area where the Forensic Science Service is still struggling considerably: digital forensics. Police forensics budgets continue to be under pressure, yet the demand for digital evidence and the complexity of its requirements continue to grow. There is an urgent need for enhanced artificial intelligence and other technological solutions to the analysis of digital evidence in order to prevent the current poor standard of analysis and long delays damaging the criminal justice process and harming people’s lives. Although the Transforming Forensics programme has had some impact in this area, much more needs to be done, and the forensic science policy steering group needs to ensure that co-ordinated and funded programmes of R&D are at a scale to tackle and solve this urgent problem of digital forensic analysis. I hope that the new regulator will highlight what needs to be done on this issue in her very first report.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, for bringing forward this Private Member’s Bill and for introducing it to the House. I agree with everything he has said. On 6 December 2013, speaking in the debate on the then Independent Police Complaints Commission report which was chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Stevens of Kirkwhelpington, I said in Hansard that then Forensic Science Service
“was originally run by the Home Office from regional laboratories”
which I well remember.
“It then merged into a sort of business arm of government in 2005 in order to make efficiencies and to cut costs. However, police forces were increasingly in-sourcing forensic services. So, by 2010, the Government decided to close the Forensic Science Service and transfer its responsibilities to the NPIA, the former National Policing Improvement Agency, which had been responsible for the forensic procurement to forces until that point. Then the NPIA was disbanded and its responsibilities were transferred to the College of Policing.”—[Official Report, 5/12/13; col. 444.]
What a mess. I said at the time that the dispersal of highly trained forensic scientists would mean that they would be lost to the service, and so they were. The result was and still is that there are different forensic science procedures throughout our 43 police forces. How could a regulator keep up to speed with all that? Private providers filled as many gaps as possible, but clearly not effectively, as we can now see, because they were set up under regional competition rules that were ridiculously complex. Forces were given 13 providers from which to select their preferences. It was a dreadful scheme.
A forensics review was undertaken by the Home Office because key forensic services collapsed in 2018, which resulted in forces having to find other commercial providers as it had become apparent that forensic science was not being delivered effectively. However, the regulator of the service was not given any real powers, as we have heard, to initiate improvements. I said at the time of the report of the independent commission that a voluntary model of regulation would not work, and nor has it. Standards could not be enforced and forensic science was a piecemeal service, which has raised many questions about quality and the analysis of evidence.
The Home Office recognised, when it undertook its review, that there had been serious questions about unsafe forensic evidence in court. The rapid expansion of technology, as has been mentioned, has now made it imperative for the regulator to have the teeth needed to see that the forensic science service can be put on to a much safer and more secure footing, hopefully ensuring that there are no more cases that cannot be solved in a timely manner and that we have no more miscarriages of justice. I support the Bill.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, for introducing this Bill, and I agree with virtually everything he had to say. I welcome the Bill not just for what it does, but as the first step in recognising that scientific claims should be subject to challenge and to audit. This is certainly true of forensic science. The courts need to be sure that scientific claims are well-founded and well-based. The pandemic, during which we have constantly been told to follow the science and listen to the scientists, only to find that the scientific advice changes, has shown that there are more general issues where we ought to be looking at the quality of science.
We are taught to believe in scientists with even greater reverence than was accorded to Doctors of the Church in the Middle Ages. However, science does not depend on the authority of scientists, but on how well their theories fit the facts. If those theories cannot be made to fit the facts, they are not true. So it comes as a shock to discover that there is a crisis of replication in science more generally, not only in the sphere of this Bill. Pfizer, for example, could not replicate three-quarters of published studies proposing new drugs. The Economist says that there is
“A rule of thumb among biotechnology venture-capitalists … that half of the studies”
in their area turn out to be true or replicable.
“One biotech firm, Amgen, found that they could replicate just six of 53 ‘landmark’ studies”
in the field of medical science.
The full extent and breadth of the problem, way beyond medicine and forensic science, was shown in an article by John Ioannidis. It is one of the most downloaded studies of all time and has the chilling title, Why Most Published Research Findings are False. He concluded that
“for many current scientific fields, claimed research findings may often be simply accurate measures of the prevailing bias”
in that field. That is why I proposed a Bill to establish an office for science quality assessment which would operate under the National Audit Office to audit scientific findings on which public policy is based, whether in the courts or elsewhere. However, I welcome the Bill before us because it shows that in one sphere in particular, such a sceptical, thorough and rigorous attitude is necessary.
My Lords, this Bill is long overdue. I welcomed the presentation by my noble friend Lord Kennedy, which set out the Bill and left very little to say except that the Bill had been sitting on the shelf for some time during the Cameron and May Governments.
Forensic science is vital in almost every criminal matter. In the other place, Bambos Charalambous MP stressed the importance of ensuring that forensic science standards were met because of the “catastrophic impact” on the criminal justice system if they were not. He said that the powers of the Bill were welcome and “long overdue” but acknowledged that due to
“the substantial cuts and continuing squeeze on police budgets”—[Official Report, Commons, 25/9/21; col. 1304.]
as well as financial pressures on the private forensic science services sector, it was important that regulation did not place an additional load on the workforce or place financial burdens on small private providers. The extra funding has been in place since early last year. He very much hoped that this will not be cut. This Bill’s remaining stages in the other place took place on 12 March 2021. We must ensure that the Bill goes through this House, giving forensic science all the powers in the Bill, and the funding, and giving extra powers to the regulator, as necessary.
Poor-quality forensic science leads to failed prosecutions and failure to secure justice for victims. Furthermore, this is a STEM subject, and should be on syllabuses, encouraging girls at school to train. At the World Economic Forum, it was recognised that the shortage of forensic scientists is a crisis. The House of Lords Science and Technology Select Committee also recognised this. It is very important that we go out of our way to ensure that there is training and good job retention in the long term.
My Lords, it is deeply worrying that parts of the criminal justice system can be so unreliable. It seems to have been widely recognised for quite some time, and accepted, that there were big problems in forensic science and that something had to be done. The coalition consulted on this in 2013. David Cameron’s majority Government said in 2016 that they would develop legislation; Theresa May’s Government were going to support this Private Member’s Bill in 2018; and this Government said in 2019 that they would do something about it. Here we are, two years later, and they are delivering on that.
Today is meant to be a celebration of co-operative politics, which I very much support, but at the same time, we cannot ignore the fact that justice has been jeopardised by almost a decade of delay on this issue. We hear of wrongful convictions, but we still assume that forensic science is science following robust procedures, validation, accuracy and testing, and that these scientific results are then fed through the rigorous review of the justice system, of rules of evidence, vigorous challenge by the defence and the burden of proof on the prosecution to convince a jury, all designed to ensure that the guilty are found guilty and that the innocent go free. Yet this Bill, and the cross-party support for it, reveal that this is a false premise. There have been miscarriages of justice because of poor practice in forensic science, so innocent people have been found guilty, and guilty people have gone free.
Other noble Lords have pointed to the fact that even in this Bill there are gaps—for example, the noble Lord, Lord Patel. The noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, said that the quality of service was patchy. This is extremely worrying as well.
It is a terrifying thought, so I am not content today for us to simply pass this Private Member’s Bill and pat ourselves on the back. It is not good enough to just get it right in the future; of course we have to do that, but it is not enough. Will the Minister please tell us how the Government will make good on the injustices that have resulted from the weak links in this system? The Attorney-General and the Director of Public Prosecutions should review cases to ensure that not one single person has been convicted on the basis of faulty forensic evidence. I also want to know what will happen to the people who were perhaps guilty. We need to ensure they are held to account for whatever crime they did. Again, justice depends on the innocent being found innocent and the guilty being found guilty so, please, will we have a review?
My Lords, I welcome the Bill and the fact that it has received support from across the House. Before I address the specific issues arising from it, I pay particular tribute to the forensic scientists working in police forces up and down the country, who are almost always grossly under-resourced. Their dedication and commitment, in often difficult circumstances, needs to be recognised.
These circumstances have not been improved by the plethora of changes and reforms to the way in which forensic science services have been organised since 2005. These changes, carried out under Governments of all colours, have left us with a mess, as my noble friend Lady Harris of Richmond set out so clearly. The Bill is an attempt to address part of that mess: the failure to provide the forensic science regulator with the statutory powers it needs to do its job.
It seems extraordinary that the regulator which operates in this most sensitive of areas, where the effectiveness or otherwise of forensic services can determine whether the innocent are convicted or the guilty go free, has, since it was brought into being, had no statutory powers. It is able to provide only advice and never direction—despite the fact that the former forensic service regulator, Dr Gillian Tully, repeatedly highlighted the need for statutory powers for her office, and that this view was endorsed by committees in this House and the other place. The Bill corrects that important omission and I congratulate Darren Jones in another place and the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, in this place on introducing it, and the Government on supporting it.
While it is an important step forward, on its own the Bill cannot tackle the many challenges facing forensic science in this country. As the report of your Lordships’ Science and Technology Committee noted in May 2019:
“The quality and delivery of forensic science in England and Wales is inadequate.”
This is a major problem because, as the report and other noble Lords also noted, in many criminal cases forensic science evidence is pivotal. The delivery of justice depends on the integrity and accuracy of that evidence, and the trust that society has in it. The report went on to quote what it described as the “stark warning” of the forensic science regulator that
“profound changes to funding and governance are required to ensure that forensic science survives and begins to flourish rather than lurching from crisis to crisis”.
At the heart of the problem is the huge reduction in the money spent on forensic science. Andrew Rennison, a commissioner at the Criminal Cases Review Commission, told your Lordships’ committee that in 2008
“there was probably £120 million being spent on forensic science. That is now down to about £50 million or £55 million”
at a time when the demands on forensic science services are greater than ever. This poses an obvious and major risk to the integrity of our criminal justice system.
The lack of statutory powers for the regulator, combined with budget cuts, reorganisation and a huge growth in the need for new services, such as digital evidence, have proven a toxic cocktail. The Bill will tackle one important element of that cocktail but there is much more work for the Government to do to provide effective organisation and resourcing of forensic science. That work needs to be undertaken with urgency so that forensic scientists are provided with the resources to do the job that we ask of them, public trust in forensic science evidence is restored and the justice system is properly served by our forensic science services.
My Lords, first, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Kennedy of Southwark on his very clear and well-argued explanation of the case for the Bill. The Member for Bristol North West, Darren Jones, clearly made a very good choice in deciding who to ask to sponsor the Bill in this House.
My noble friend made reference to the breadth of disciplines covered by forensic science today, and the importance of all involved in and with the criminal justice system having confidence in the methodology used, evidence given and conclusions reached by forensic scientists in light of the potentially powerful impact that their findings can have on the outcome of a case. Poor-quality forensics can lead to failed prosecution of criminals and a failure to secure justice for victims. At worst, it could even lead to the conviction of those who are innocent. Worryingly, a Home Office-commissioned review, to which my noble friend referred, identified an increased perception of the risk of unsafe forensic evidence. Hence the importance of an oversight regime that is independent and has the resources, skills, knowledge and powers to ensure that there are not only mandatory quality standards applicable to the providers of forensic science services, but that such standards can be enforced. It is this latter aspect that the Bill is designed to address by putting the existing forensic science regulator post on a statutory basis and giving the regulator powers to enforce a statutory code of practice for forensic science activities relating to the criminal justice system in England and Wales.
The current role of the regulator includes delivering standards and ensuring the quality of providers and processes, but the regulator does not have the power to require compliance with codes of practice, ensure consistency of standards and deliver change, because present regulation operates on a voluntary model basis.
According to a report from our own Science and Technology Committee, the private forensic science market is dominated by three large providers, all of which have experienced some form of instability. The market is also served by a number of smaller private forensic science service providers, some of which employ only one or two people. I share the view of the noble Lord, Lord Patel, that we also need to consider, albeit separately, wider concerns about the state of the forensic science services than are covered by the Bill.
In July 2019, the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee said that the regulator needed statutory powers because of
“an unstable forensics market which has been on the brink of collapse, and the clear need to uphold quality standards across forensic services”.
My noble friend Lord Kennedy of Southwark also referred to the view of our own Science and Technology Committee when it said:
“It is hard to understand why … the Forensic Science Regulator still lacks powers they need … The Forensic Science industry is in trouble; such action is now urgent”.
That view was also held by the last regulator, Dr Gillian Tully, who said in her final annual report, published in January:
“Although a last resort, the potential for enforcement action is an important driver for proactive improvement. It will also mean that those who fail to follow robust scientific methodology and the legal requirements on experts can be prevented from continuing to pose a risk to the criminal justice system”.
Previously, the regulator had said that the delay in passing such legislation had
“without doubt resulted in slower progress towards compliance with quality standards, particularly in very small companies and police forces”.
In 2016, the Government said that they would develop proposals to give the forensic science regulator statutory powers. I understand that the Government continue to support this Bill, and I hope they will confirm that in their response today.
My Lords, I start by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, for bringing forward this Bill and the noble Lord, Lord Patel, for acknowledging our efforts in that regard. I also acknowledge his point about sufficient resourcing. I understand that the regulator’s office will receive £220,000 per year, with any top-ups coming out of Home Office budgets. He and the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, also made the point about how much further we could go. That is right, but the Bill is a good step forward and very much meets the golden rule of Private Members’ Bills, which is to keep them simple.
The noble Lord, Lord Oates, and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, asked why it has taken so long. As the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, said, it was first pledged by the Government in 2016. It had a few rocky experiences and, ultimately, is now back as a Private Member’s Bill. I think it was the Private Member’s Bill in the 2017-19 Session that failed, but I am very glad that it is back here with us today.
As the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, said, forensic science is one of policing’s most important tools for investigating crime. The prosecution of, for example, county lines crime and violent crimes such as knife crime heavily relies on good-quality forensics, including digital forensics and DNA. It helps us to avoid exoneration of the guilty and, of course, miscarriage of justice to the innocent. To go straight to the point of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, upholding quality standards in forensic science is therefore vital to confidence in those criminal justice outcomes.
On the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond, confidence in the application of the underlying science depends on providers’ adherence to the regulator’s codes of practice, whether they are employed directly by police forces or privately contracted. The Government have therefore committed to putting the regulator on a statutory footing. We want the regulator to act when it has reason to believe that forensic science activities create a substantial risk to the course of justice.
The Bill establishes the regulator as a statutory officeholder. With statutory powers, the regulator would, as a last resort, as the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, said, be able to issue compliance notices against forensic providers who are failing to meet the required quality standards, and thus protect the criminal justice system. The Bill requires the regulator to publish and keep under review a code of practice covering forensic science activities in England and Wales. The code does not have to provide for every forensic science activity and may make different provisions for different types of activity—for example, depending on whether the process is being performed at a crime scene or in a laboratory.
The Bill also confers on the regulator the power to investigate a forensic science activity to which the regulator’s code of practice applies, if the regulator believes that the activity is being carried out in a way that risks adversely affecting an investigation or impeding or prejudicing the course of justice in England and Wales. It further provides that the regulator may bring injunction proceedings to compel a person to comply with a requirement to provide information or documents under the Bill.
The power to investigate is crucial to the regulator’s ability effectively to enforce quality standards and adherence to a statutory code of practice. Without this power, the regulator would not be able to identify instances of bad practice or to work with forensic providers to put things right. If the regulator believes that an activity to which the code of practice applies is being carried out in a way that risks adversely affecting an investigation, or impeding or prejudicing the course of justice in England and Wales, it can give the person performing the activity a compliance notice. If that person does not comply, the regulator may bring proceedings for an injunction to secure compliance. The Bill also makes provision for the regulator to prepare and publish guidance or reports on, and provide advice relating to, forensic science activities in England and Wales.
The noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond, talked about the decision to close the Forensic Science Service in 2012. It was closed because, by 2010, it was losing an estimated £2 million a month—and that was taxpayers’ money, of course. Although this was not the reason for its closure, there were many forensic science failings in the FSS, which led to multiple case reviews and retesting programmes. That picks up some of the points made by noble Lords. We do not intend to reopen the FSS. We also agree that a voluntary system is not working, hence the Bill before us.
I was asked about the future reform programme in forensic science. Last July, we presented to the Criminal Justice Board plans for reform to deliver strategic oversight and leadership for the future of forensics. Since then, we have set out four key pillars of the forensic science reform programme: police capability; regulation of provision; CJS capability; and research and development. This work is being progressed with the Ministry of Justice, the regulator’s office and other stakeholders.
On capabilities, we have invested £28.6 million to accelerate innovation and combat crime across England and Wales. The Forensic Capability Network is providing police forces with specialist support functions. A digital forensic science strategy was published last summer. A workforce strategy has also been developed; this will help to identify the direction of future workforce demands in forensic science.
The Home Office is leading on an objective to increase confidence in the science entering the CJS by supporting the Bill. We have ensured that clauses on data extraction are included through the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill; they will clarify the legal basis for data extraction from digital devices with the agreement of the user. Officials in the Ministry of Justice are working to increase the transparency around expert witnesses’ credentials and ensure that defendants have equal access to experts. We also aim to identify current and future research and development needs. We have already identified existing funding streams and gathered information on areas of research interest through engagement with stakeholders.
I am very grateful for the cross-party support in the House and the support of the National Police Chiefs’ Council for the Bill and these vital measures. Before I close, I want to pay tribute to Dr Gillian Tully, now the former regulator, for her invaluable work while in the role. It is my hope that her successor will be able to benefit from these powers and continue to drive up standards in forensic science in England and Wales.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who spoke in this debate. I am delighted to have the support of the noble Earl, Lord Lindsay, with his wide experience—including as chair of UKAS, the national accreditation body for the United Kingdom. I am also pleased to have the support of the distinguished noble Lord, Lord Patel, who has done excellent work as chair of the Science and Technology Committee of your Lordships’ House. As the noble Lord told us, we used to be the leader in forensic science services. I believe that this is a step in the right direction for us to regain that place.
My noble friend Lady Young of Old Scone highlighted that there is more to be done, and the Science and Technology Committee of this noble House will have an important role in setting out the way forward and working with the Government to look at those future reforms. The noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond, highlighted the changes that, over time, have contributed to the problems that the service is dealing with today.
I am delighted to have the support of the noble Lord, Lord Lilley, and agree with him that quality and rigour are important. In matters where one’s liberty is at stake, we must have the highest quality standards in place. My noble friend Lady Goudie is right that poor forensic science fails victims and fails to deliver justice.
The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, raised the concern that the problems have been known about for many years. I agree that it is disappointing that we have taken so long to get to this place. Now that the issue has been raised, I know that the noble Baroness will ensure that the Government are pressed many more times in the future to urgently address other failures.
I join the noble Lord, Lord Oates, in paying tribute to the work of those in the forensic science services, both those housed within police forces and those in private practice. I also join the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Trafford, in paying tribute to Dr Gillian Tully, the former regulator, for all her work.
I thank my noble friend Lord Rosser for his support and that of the Official Opposition. He highlighted the widespread support inside and outside Parliament for the reforms that the Bill delivers. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Trafford, for her response to the debate and for signalling the Government’s support for this Bill. All the crimes that she referred to require forensic science services to deliver true justice for victims and for those accused of crimes and to ensure that those who are guilty are convicted and those who are innocent are acquitted.
I was delighted that every single speaker in the debate supported the Bill. I hope that, with such breadth of support, we will ensure that the Bill receives a speedy passage through this noble House. With that in mind, I hope that the temptation to table helpful amendments is resisted.
Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.
House adjourned at 3.31 pm.