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Government rejects call for forensic-lab closure delay

The government has defended its decision to close the Forensic Science Service and rejected a plea by the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee to extend the closure deadline.

In its 1 July report, the committee described the decision to close the service as too hasty and said the government should extend the deadline by at least six months in order to consult on and determine a “wider strategy” for forensic advice.

In particular, the committee expressed concern about the impact of the closure on research and development.

But the government, in a response published on 31 October, said it had sought enough evidence before making the decision and that the closure would go ahead as planned by 31 March 2012.

“We sought advice from [the Association of Chief Police Officers], who confirmed that they believed that the forensics market could cope with the transition,” reads the submission. “We did consider R&D as part of the decision making process. We were concerned that the FSS’s financial difficulties had already seriously limited the company’s resource and capacity for research and innovation,” it added.

FSS restructuring had started and “excellent progress has already been made.

“The extension of the timetable would increase costs to the taxpayer and would lead to prolonged uncertainty for the forensics market and for FSS staff,” it argued.

The government also rebuffed MPs concerns that the Home Office’s chief scientific adviser, Bernard Silverman, had been sidelined in the decision-making process.

It “strongly rejects the criticism of his role” and said that a CSA should provide independent scientific advice—not commercial or legal guidance.

However, the government welcomed a suggestion by the MPs that the Home Office and research councils should develop a national research budget for forensic science.

“We agree with the recommendation in the Home Office Chief Scientific Adviser’s Review that consideration should be given to the establishment of forensic science as a strategic research priority for the Research Councils. We will work to facilitate contacts between Research Councils UK and academics, industry and end users to explore establishing forensic science as a strategic research priority,” it said.

In a statement commenting on the government’s response, Andrew Miller, chairman of the select committee, said it was “disappointing that the Home Office has failed to recognise that the decision to close the FSS should not have been taken purely on commercial and legal grounds, but also on scientific grounds.

“The government says it is confident that the wind-down of the FSS is the right decision. I will be asking the committee to keep a close eye on the transition as I still fear that the forensic science research base and criminal justice system could be jeopardised if the Minister’s optimism is ill founded,” he added.