Forensic Science in the General Election 2015

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With only a few weeks to go until the General Election 2015 in the UK, I thought I would look at the major party manifestos and see if there were any hints on their vision for the future of forensic science.

I have perused the major party (Conservative, Labour, Liberal Dmeoncrat, Green and UKIP) documents and websites and come up a sum of the times forensic science was mentioned: 0 times. Not much to go on there if forensic science provision concerns you (and the knock on implications for criminal justice).

Digging a bit deeper I decided to see if a hidden policy was on their website but didn’t make it into the manifesto for the election campaign.  I searched the websites for mentions of ‘forensic’. The Lib dems have 2 – unfortunately the were to do with keeping a ‘forensic’ watch on the prime ministers bottom and ‘forensic analysis’ of  trident nuclear subs.  There are more mentions on Labour and the Green party websites, but these are not policy related but links to speeches or old press releases. It is not possible to search the Conservative Party or UKIP websites.

 

It appears that forensic science is a forgotten piece of the criminal justice system, which apparently goes from Police, to Court, to Prison with no other inputs…

 

To get an idea if the candidates had specific thoughts (or knowledge of) forensic science I contacted each of the seven candidates from each of the above parties (plus Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition and English Democrats) from my home constituency (Sheffield Heeley, Labour MP in 2010, MP standing down).  To find the candidates standing in your area you can type your postcode in here: https://yournextmp.com/.

ballot box

The text of my letters was as follows:

Dear

I am a senior lecturer in forensic and analytical science at Sheffield Hallam University and live within Sheffield Heeley, your prospective constituency.  I have previously worked as a practitioner of forensic toxicology in the UK and in New Zealand.

I am concerned about the future of forensic science in the UK and how it will be resourced.  The forensic science spending by Police forces has shrunk significantly to a point where many services are not being provided or are seriously at risk. I would like to know your thoughts in the following two questions:

  1. Do you think we are in danger of increasing miscarriages of justice, particularly following the closure of the forensic science service?
  1. What will be your major priorities when it comes to improving forensic science services and preventing the further erosion of the service?

 

Thank you for your time

Kind regards,

 

So far the responses have been literally flooding in.  Well ok, only UKIP candidate Howard Denby has responded so far. The main body of his text is copied below (with a few parts removed not directly related or for clarity):

Dear Mr [sic] Bassindale

I am afraid you are correct on all counts.

I am afraid the Justice for all that we used to enjoy has long since gone and if elected I will fight to my last breathe to finance the NHS, Police, Forensic Science and legal aid.

I have very personal reasons for feeling so strongly about this issue [edited for clarity]. The reduction of Legal Aid services and privatisation of Forensic Science means we have followed the American model of justice for those who can afford it…but had we an independent Forensic Science Service people could be assured of Justice.

If I am elected I would ask you to contact me and arrange to get together as soon as possible. Kind regards,

 

UPDATE: I have now received an additional response from the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, a party which are standards against austerity policies:

Dear Tom,

I am no expert in this field but as a TUSC candidate I am opposed to the austerity policies that are cutting funding to vital public services including from what you say the Police forensic budget and I presume University research in this field.

Such cuts obviously impact on miscarriages of justice of which there are far too many already.

As for priorities for improving forensic sciences, then I would have to be guided by experts in the field such as yourself, but whatever they are they would require public funding which takes us back to opposing the cuts and democratically planning and allocating society’s resources.

Yours sincerely

Alan Munro

TUSC candidate for Sheffield Heeley

I will update as/if I get any more responses!

 

This post was rather prompted rather by the #savefibres campaign from Contact Traces’ supremo Tiernon Coyle. Please go to their website here: http://savefibres.contacttraces.co.uk/ to see a few great videos explaining the current state of FS.

I will not be telling anyone how to vote, nor will I be revealing my voting intentions, as this is but one aspect of my life and work that will go into the decision.

 

Thanks for reading!  Please share and encourage others to question their candidates – let me know how you get on!

 

Dr Tom Bassindale

About Dr Tom Bassindale

Dr Tom Bassindale is a forensic scientist, and the founder of We Are Forensic. He's managed hundreds of forensic toxicology cases, and is an experienced court witness. He has specialist expertise in forensic toxicology and drug testing in sport. Dr B is currently a senior lecturer at Sheffield Hallam University. And yes... he watches CSI.