The last two years have seen the largest shake-up in the provision of forensic services to the Criminal Justice System since the Forensic Science Service was set up to be independent of the police in 1991. With the pressure on police budgets, we have seen a significant increase in the effective application of ‘Streamlined Forensic Reporting’ (SFR) i.e. staged forensic reporting. Furthermore, SFR is to be rolled out throughout England and Wales from 1st April this year.
How does this affect the solicitor acting on behalf of the defendant?
In simple terms, SFR means that the prosecution undertake just enough forensic work to support a charge/secure a guilty plea. In your criminal cases involving DNA, but also increasingly fingerprints, firearms and drugs, the first forensic report you will see is a ‘Match Report’. These convey the result of a test but do not contain any evaluation of the evidence. They were intended originally for intelligence use only. Supporting the ‘Match Report’ will be a forensic file containing submission and examination records but you will need to request these for your expert to provide an evaluation of the significance of the test result.
After charging, the Match Report should be followed up with an Evidential Statement. In our experience however, these contain no more evaluative information that the Match Report.
At this stage, you will be advising your clients but without any evaluation of the significance of the forensic test results. Case experience suggests you should consider:
- The Match Report is not based on the amount of forensic work that you will be familiar with in past criminal cases.
- What if the strength of the evidence decreases when a full evidential statement is subsequently prepared?
- What if your client accepts the ‘Match’ report but is contesting the manner in which the DNA might have been transferred?
- What forensic work has not been undertaken that could be critical to your client’s case?
A full evidential report (known as a Stage 2 report) is prepared only if the case is contested. Unfortunately, this can be very late in the day, such as a few days before the trial, when there are concomitant pressures on all parties for the trial to proceed.
How can Keith Borer Consultants help?
Our suggestion is that you don’t wait for the Stage 2 report to be disclosed. Even at the Match Report stage Keith Borer Consultants can help you to:
- Understand the Match Report and its limitations.
- Assist in requesting and evaluating the forensic file behind the Match Report.
- Establish if there is new forensic work that is critical to your client’s case but which has not been undertaken by the police, and carry out this work at our laboratory in Durham.
SFR and its roll out is the most radical change in the presentation of prosecution forensic evidence in many years. Only time will tell whether it achieves its twin aims of reducing costs whilst improving the effective use of forensic science and experts in a fair and balanced manner.
Dr L Jane Bloor, Director