Since I first started in the forensic market over 10 years ago, much has changed. Forensic science, especially in the Digital arena, has become overly commoditised. Legal Aid rates have been slashed a number of times, making it difficult to recruit and retain the best experts, who are flocking to more lucrative types of work. Regulatory requirements in relation to ISO17025 are increasing the burden on companies and experts remaining in the market. To quote the Forensic Science Regulator's Annual Report 2018, "Public sector finances are limited everywhere, but the risks to forensic science provision are close to existential. A complete rethink of the structure, funding and oversight of forensic science is urgently required; minor alterations will not suffice."
Contrast this to the work we must now conduct. A decade ago, a suspect would be considered unusual if they had more than a single computer requiring examination. I am reminded of a government poster suggesting that someone may be involved in crime if they had more than one mobile phone. How times have changed! It is not just the number of devices but the scale of the storage in these devices which has snowballed to the point where it can take many days just to process the evidence prior to an examination. Much is still the same as the 'good old days' - it's still just bits and bytes, and figuring out how things tick - there is just a lot more of it.
Despite this, experts are expected to work for less and less money, and in ever diminishing timescales. The result is that digital evidence has become overly simplified, a problem exacerbated by the abuse of the SFR process, relying on streamlined reports at Court instead of full evidential statements. ISO17025 requirements can be misinterpreted to keep the scope of an examination within a narrow accredited method. Digital evidence is often presented to the court as a statement of fact, the presence of material apparently speaking for itself. In today's world, however, that has never been less true. The complexities of today's systems have given ever more credence to the concept that someone may not be aware of particular images or files on their devices.
Presence is not provenance - it is essential that a case is properly investigated to demonstrate the 'how' and 'why', rather than simply the 'what' provided in an SFR1. It feels that there are less and less experts capable of establishing those critical facts and the LAA's competitive tendering approach takes no heed of this, focussing purely on cost. I can’t emphasise strongly enough that instructing parties should make sure they know what they'll be getting before instructing the lowest quoting expert.
If you find yourself with a cheaper quote, give us a call so we can check and make sure you are getting what you need to properly investigate your client's case. At Keith Borer Consultants, we will work with you to do as much as we can to meet your instructions within the funding available.
Ross Donnelly, Digital Team Leader