All 1 Selaine Saxby contributions to the Forensic Science Regulator Bill 2019-21

Read Bill Ministerial Extracts

Fri 25th Sep 2020
Forensic Science Regulator and Biometrics Strategy Bill
Commons Chamber

2nd reading & 2nd reading & 2nd reading: House of Commons & 2nd reading

Forensic Science Regulator and Biometrics Strategy Bill Debate

Full Debate: Read Full Debate
Department: Home Office

Forensic Science Regulator and Biometrics Strategy Bill

Selaine Saxby Excerpts
2nd reading & 2nd reading: House of Commons
Friday 25th September 2020

(3 years, 7 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Forensic Science Regulator Bill 2019-21 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Selaine Saxby Portrait Selaine Saxby (North Devon) (Con)
- Hansard - -

It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich West (Shaun Bailey). Like others, I do not claim to be as learned as my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton West (Chris Green) in this field, but I am delighted to speak in the debate, having wanted to be a forensic scientist for most of my childhood. The intrigue of forensic pathology very much caught my eye with Jack Klugman’s “Quincy, M.E.” Unlike my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (Brendan Clarke-Smith), who is not now in his place, I watched it not through the advances in digital technology but live on my television—I hate to concede that. The fascination remains undimmed as dramas such as “Silent Witness” continue to cross our screens. I am delighted to hear that there are 112 similar dramas if I have those advances in technology in the future.

Forensic science as a field is so much bigger than just pathology. Indeed, it is the application of science to criminal and civil laws, mainly on the criminal side. Forensic science is made up of a combination of two Latin words: “forensis”, which means a discussion or examination performed in public, and “scientia”, which derives from knowledge.

Forensic science is one of policing’s most important tools for investigating crime and upholding quality standards is vital to confidence in investigation outcomes. Only this week we have heard of great successes in reducing the number of phone numbers that are used by county lines drugs gangs, and we know that dealing with that as well as other violent crimes is highly reliant on high-quality forensics.

I am very fortunate to live in a part of the country with a very low crime rate, but my own force in Devon and Cornwall—I commend it for its fantastic work at this time—has highlighted the importance of good forensics. County lines are a blight across the south-west, and early this year it was forensics that helped to secure a conviction in Paignton. We have indulged in some graphic descriptions this morning, and this particular case involved a knife that went through the skull of the victim so hard as to penetrate the brain. We are delighted that in that case the forensics meant that someone was convicted of the attempted murder of a member of a rival drugs gang in that turf war ambush.

It is perhaps most surprising of all that the Forensic Science Regulator is not already a statutory office holder. We know that a commitment was made in 2016 and I very much hope that today’s debate will see that come to fruition at last.

Forensic techniques have evolved over time. We have seen how important it is to ensure the standardisation of processes to ensure that quality is consistent and to reduce miscarriages of justice. In the States, fields such as forensic dentistry have seen at least three cases where bite-mark evidence has convicted murder suspects, only for them to be freed later on DNA evidence. The now discredited comparative bullet-lead analysis was used by the FBI for more than four decades, from the time of JFK’s assassination in 1962 through to 2005. It was only in the late 2000s that it became clear that DNA evidence could be fabricated.

We know that in the digital age there have been huge advances in the field, and the ability to analyse crime scenes and to link crimes has improved dramatically in recent years. My hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford (Julie Marson) highlighted the need for confidence in this area. We talk about the digital age and our smartphones. It would take a forensic lab many months to dissect my own device. Victims of crime having the confidence to hand over their devices is very important.

This is a complex scientific field. The importance of responding to the Lords and Commons Science and Technology Committees by ensuring that the Bill becomes legislation cannot be underestimated. The field of biometrics is also hugely complex, and I am pleased that the Government have reiterated their commitment to empowering the police to use biometric technologies within a strict legal framework. I look forward to hearing those plans in Parliament. It appears that the breadth of this field perhaps exceeds the scope of this private Member’s Bill. I hope that the focus on the forensic science regulator will ensure that the Bill goes forward today. It would encourage police forces to achieve accreditation and would give the regulator the tools needed to ensure that the minority of forensic providers that have consistently failed to achieve accreditation across a range of forensic disciplines for their in-house facilities achieve it. The risk of miscarriages of justice from poor forensics at this time significantly outweighs the costs of implementation.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Bristol North West (Darren Jones) on progressing the Bill, which I fully support, to this stage. I hope it will enable the courts to rely even more fully on expert forensic witnesses and their evidence, reducing the likelihood of a TV-like drama unfolding in our courtrooms in the future.