What does this mean for law enforcement, prosecutors and legal defence teams?
Evidence obtained from computers, mobile phones, sat nav’s and other digital storage devices and presented in criminal trials, is expected to come under greater challenge and scrutiny by both prosecution and legal defence teams from October this year.
From October, all law-enforcement agencies are expected to have met quality standards set by the Forensic Science Regulator, Dr Gillian Tully.
Dr Tully warned publicly in January this year, that a lack of funding to improve forensic science was ‘jeopardising the integrity of the criminal justice system’ and that the expected standards were ‘not an un-achievable “gold-plated” ideal, but the minimum standards expected of any reliable forensic science.’
Although she reported that police forces and other agencies are making ‘a substantial effort’ to reach the required standards for ‘in-house’ services, Dr Tully said ‘few’ will receive accreditation within the time frame. It is believed that less than a dozen forces have done so at this point.
What does this mean for law enforcement agencies and criminal legal defence teams, relying on digital forensic evidence in criminal trials; an important and growing source of evidence particularly in complex and serious cases heard in Crown Court?
Karen Sabin, CCL’s Quality Manager, who has 13 years’ experience in this field, said “greater awareness among defence solicitors and barristers of required digital forensic standards, will lead to prosecution evidence and the method used to obtain it, often previously accepted without question, now being challenged and subjected to far greater scrutiny.
Equally, solicitors and barristers working for the Crown Prosecution Service, may challenge defense experts and submissions made by them if they have not been prepared to the correct standards”.
The Forensic Science Regulator has raised awareness of the standards she expects, in relation to digital forensic evidence in her 2016 annual report and also in dialogue with forces and defence lawyers, including those providing Legal Aid services.
Karen goes on to say, “As such evidence becomes more and more critical to prosecutions, providing a wealth of information, including documents, images and location data; the more the quality of the method and tools used by agencies to gather information against their client will be probed.
If the tool (software or hardware) or method (process) used by laboratories to obtain evidence can be undermined, then confidence in the integrity and validity of evidence itself may also be put at risk”.
CCL has the most comprehensive ISO17025 accreditation from the United Kingdom Accreditation Service (UKAS) for digital forensic analysis, of all providers in the UK. Forces and agencies should check exactly what services their suppliers are accredited for, either directly or via the UKAS website.
“CCL’s accreditation covers the tools we use to capture, preserve, protect, extract and analyse digital forensic data. All service providers will, in future, not only have to accredit the tools (software and hardware) they use but also their methods, and then comply with the new Forensic Science Regulator’s Codes of Practice and Conduct; audits against which began in October last year,” added Karen.
Karen continues, “CCL has invested hundreds of thousands of pounds in physical security, personnel security including vetting, training and development of systems and quality management. Not only are they an ISO17025:2005 accredited testing laboratory, but are also certified to the international standards for quality management (ISO 9001:2015), information security (ISO 27001:2013) and Cyber Essentials”.
- The Forensic Science Regulator’s warning about risks to the Criminal Justice System can be read here: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/insufficient-funding-for-forensic-science-puts-justice-at-risk
 2016 Forensic Science Regulator annual report, published 6/1/2017