Forensic science in Northern Ireland must not be compromised by penny-pinching, a powerful Commons committee warns today.
The province’s only laboratory, run by Forensic Science Northern Ireland (FSNI), must be upgraded and adequate funding granted to ensure it can provide the service needed to cope with modern policing demands, it adds.
MPs called for the NIO to be given the financial support it needs, and warns “against any compromise of the quality of service simply for reasons of cost”.
Scientists carry out vital testing of police evidence that can prove crucial in securing court convictions. Some forensic testing is dealt with by the PSNI, which is much cheaper, but the work must be decided on merit not cost, the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee warned.
FSNI’s running costs are less than 1% of the PSNI’s annual budget and less than 0.7% of the criminal justice service budget. The budget of FSNI for 2008-09 was £10.9m, of which £9.3m was provided by customers, and the remainder by the NIO. The report states: “Chief Constable, Mr Matt Baggott, also told us that dealing with simpler forensic tasks in house at the PSNI ‘is the trick in terms of value for money’.
“We do not challenge the right of the Chief Constable to conduct in-house forensic work for operational reasons.
“However, it is important that in-house work should not be decided upon for financial reasons.
“Certain investigations will require great expertise and experience, which are arguably better determined and provided, by FSNI.”
The FSNI’s laboratory has been based in a former factory in Carrickfergus since its Belfast offices were bombed in 1992, although plans for a £12m new building have been drawn up.
The committee calls on the NIO to make sure the new state-of-the-art premises are provided as soon as possible and streamline the Civil Service recruitment process that means it can take three years to fill the highly specialised job vacancies.
Northern Ireland Affairs Committee chairman Sir Patrick Cormack MP said: “Our visit to FSNI headquarters in October 2009 revealed to us the high-quality work carried out there. We commend the integrity and dedication of staff, who not only work to serve the justice system of Northern Ireland but to assist other forensic scientists across the world.
“FSNI works independently from the other justice agencies and it is this impartiality that renders it such a valued service.
“The staff have been working in unsuitable and inadequate premises for nearly 18 years. It is now essential that work on the new building is given the highest priority.”