Less than 10 percent of UK police forces accredited for fingerprint processing
The basic quality standards for fingerprint evidence are being met by less than 10 percent of UK police forces, potentially damaging the credibility of evidence presented in court during criminal cases, according to the government’s Forensic Science Regulator, The Guardian reports.
All police forces in the UK were required to undergo a process for accreditation based on meeting international standards for laboratories analysing fingerprints found at crime scenes three years ago, with a deadline of November. Only three forces have been accredited, with almost all missing the deadline, The Guardian says. There are 43 police forces in England, Wales, and the British Transport Police. Those which are not accredited, including the Metropolitan and Greater Manchester forces, will have to declare their lack of accreditation in court.
“The shortcomings identified do not mean that all fingerprint evidence is of poor quality, but they do highlight risks to the quality of evidence,” says Forensic Science Regulator Gillian Tully. “The risks are greatest in situations where the comparison is complex, for example because the fingermark is partial or distorted.”
UK police forces are scrambling to address the failures.
“We are treating delays in in gaining accreditation as a critical incident, with a chief officer overseeing forces’ progress and assisting them in gaining accreditation as soon as possible,” says National Police Chief’s Association forensics lead Chief Constable James Vaughan.
The Leverhulme Research Centre for Forensic Science recently expressed concerns about the way fingerprints and other, non-biometric types of evidence are being used in court in a submission to the House of Lords. A data-tampering scandal at a laboratory used for criminal forensics last year caused dozens of convictions to be overturned.
In a written submission to the same inquiry, Tully said that there was resistance to change and a lack of understanding of quality and standards among organizations providing forensic science services. She argues that a shift towards a more transparent and scientific approach with objective standards is necessary, and called for her position to be given statutory powers to enforce regulations.
Trials of facial recognition technology by UK police have also been controversial.