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Who decides what happens? Justice on the cheap

Written by: Alan Baker 4th March, 2015

The privatisation of the forensic market place now seemingly means that the providers now dictate what criminal defence solicitors can do or say when attempting to defend a client. It is another example of what’s wrong with criminal justice.

The last few years has seen the advent of the Streamlined Forensic Report (SFR) and in many cases the prosecution serve the scientific evidence in this case in the form of a Stage 1 Streamlined Forensic Report (SFR1). We have recently been informed by forensic science laboratories contracted to the police that there are two ways forward for the defence once an SFR1 has been served, i.e.:

i) that the defence respond by identifying the issues, thus generating production of either a Stage 2 Streamlined Forensic Report (SFR2) or a full evidential statement by the prosecution team, which is in section 9 of the Magistrates’ Court Act format;

ii) that the defence sign (or provide written agreement that they will sign) a section 10 Criminal Justice Act admission to the facts contained within the SFR1.

If you wish to obtain full access to the details of the scientific evidence in this case that are being relied upon by the prosecution you will therefore need to identify “the issues”.

“Issues” that we have encountered in recent SFR1’s have included:

• The defendant disputes that the DNA matches him,
• The defendant disputes that the DNA could have originated from him,
• The defendant disputes thes DNA match statistic referred to in the report.
• No mention is made in the report of the type of cellular material that produced the matching DNA profile. In order to fully evaluate the evidence, a full assessment of the details of the examination and sampling of the item will need to be made.
• No mention is made in the report of the nature (e.g. contact or spatter) of the blood stain from which the DNA profile was obtained. Was a blood stain pattern analysis carried out? Could the blood have been deposited by means other than those proposed by the prosecution?
• The report does not consider how the DNA [or glass, paint, fibres etc.] evidence may have become deposited onto the item examined.
• The report does not state whether there was DNA from another person present in the result, and if so to in what proportion relative to the DNA reportedly matching the defendant.
• From what location on the item was the DNA evidence recovered?
• Textile fibres had been recovered that reportedly matched those on the defendant’s clothing. How common are those fibres? How readily are fibres such as these shed and retained?
• Had consideration of the evidence been taken with regard to the defence hypothesis as well as the prosecution hypothesis?
• Regarding the traces of drugs detected on the items, how common are such traces? What type of drugs were they?

The above are some examples that we have encountered; there may well be additional / alternative issues relevant to your case.

The CPS guidance with regard to Streamlined Forensic Reporting can be found on their web site:

http://www.cps.gov.uk/legal/s_to_u/scientific_evidence/sfr_guidance_and_toolkit/