Areport which says that a £15m investment in a new forensic science facility may not produce the expected benefits is obviously a worrying one.
We have become accustomed to delays in the legal system – either court cases or inquests – which are often due to lack of forensic reports. The situation is so bad that a High Court judge, frustrated that a case could not proceed, pointedly asked Justice Minister David Ford to look at ways of speeding up the system.
While the judge at that time said the Forensic Service was operating on a shoe string, it seems that not even more investment can solve the problem. Poor planning, a resistance among staff to change and the delay in implementing a new information management system were cited by this latest report as reasons why the investment may fail to have the desired effect.
It again points up the difficulty of achieving the desired levels of efficiency in many agencies in Northern Ireland. Only when things go wrong is change sought or the required remedial measures taken. Forensics are at the heart of the justice system. They provide the evidence which can lead to arrests and subsequent convictions. If exhibits are not processed quickly enough cases drag on unnecessarily, suspects can be held for long periods and justice is delayed. There is the wasted expense of court appearances which only lead to further adjournments and the judicial system becomes log jammed.
This issue is so important that the Assembly should be debating the findings of this report. This is not a matter for party politics – although some will undoubtedly try to make political capital out of it. Instead it goes right to the heart of society and the administration of justice. The tools are there but there seems to be a lack of productivity with the Forensics Service and an inability to streamline the system to make it work as it should. Concerted political pressure is required to sort out this problem.