Terms of Reference published for an inspection of Forensic Services in Northern Ireland

CJI has published terms of reference for a new inspection looking at Forensic Services in the Northern Ireland criminal justice system.
"This inspection will build on previous inspections in Forensic Science Northern Ireland and the Police Service of Northern Ireland and will review the operation of the Forensic Services Strategy with a focus on the crime scene to court model including better delivery and improved outcomes," said CJI Deputy Chief Inspector James Corrigan, who is leading the inspection.

""Forensic services are a core element of the criminal justice system with significant contributions to achieving key priorities such as robust investigations and reducing avoidable delays.  The challenges of greater efficiency in service delivery and changes in the operating models across neighbouring jurisdictions will be examined in this inspection," he said.

Terms of reference have been provided to each organisation involved in the inspection and are available below.

An Inspection of Forensic Services in Northern Ireland
Terms of Reference
Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland (CJI) proposes to undertake an inspection of Forensic Services in Northern Ireland.  There are two principal suppliers of forensic services to the Northern Ireland Criminal Justice System – Forensic Science Northern Ireland (FSNI) and the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI).
FSNI is an agency within the Department of Justice (DoJ) with a vision to be a world class provider of integrated forensic science services and a mission of scientific excellence delivered in partnership supporting justice for all.  FSNI has an annual operating budget of £13.2m with most of its funding provided by the PSNI, with the remainder coming from the State Pathologist, Public Prosecution Service for Northern Ireland (PPS), the Office of the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland (OPONI), the DoJ and a range of smaller public and private customers.  FSNI acts as the custodian of the Northern Ireland Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) database and regularly uploads Northern Ireland DNA profiles with the UK's Forensic Information Database Services.

Forensic Services (Scientific Support Branch) is part of the PSNI Operational Support Department with the purpose to have access to a high quality effective and efficient forensic capability, delivered within a timely manner, to help maximise scientific opportunities to assist in the identification of offenders and improve public confidence.  It comprises Biometrics, the Fingerprint Bureau, Fingerprint Laboratory, Footwear Unit, Crime Scene Investigators, Crime Scene Surveyors, Forensic Photographers and the Quality and Forensic Gateway.  
The last full CJI inspection of FSNI was published in 2014 with six recommendations which included the completion and delivery of a crime scene to court forensic services strategy 2016-20 involving a partnership between the FSNI, the PSNI and the DoJ.  A new joint Forensic Services Strategy, commissioned by the DoJ, covers the period 2021-26.
Partnership working was strongly encouraged by CJI to address challenges of managing the demand and supply of forensic services as well as responding to the needs for faster investigations and faster progression of cases through the courts.  There was also a need to further advance work on assessing the value of forensic services to the justice system and promote research and development.  Previous full inspections of FSNI were published in 2009 and 2005 - the latter coincided with a review of Scientific Support Services in the PSNI, which was done by CJI in conjunction with Her (now His) Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC).  CJI is undertaking a separate follow-up review of its 2017 inspection on Cyber Crime to coincide with this inspection.
The delivery of forensic services interfaces with broader criminal justice priorities such as Committal reform, tackling Avoidable Delay, delivering modernisation and post COVID-19 recovery.  Unlike England and Wales where private facilities and police forces deliver most forensic services, Northern Ireland has continued to retain most forensic services within a specialist public sector laboratory.  A similar model is also in use in Scotland and the Republic of Ireland.
Aims of the Inspection
The aims of the inspection are to:
  • Assess progress against the recommendations (6) of the CJI 2014 inspection report;
  • Review the outcomes of the 2016 Forensic Services Strategy and the operation of the 2021 Forensic Services Strategy;
  • Review the operation of the Northern Ireland Forensic Services Strategy 2021-26;
  • Assess progress with regard to governance, delivery and performance of Forensic Services in the FSNI and the PSNI, including benchmarking with other relevant providers;
  • Assess the contribution of Forensic Services to the effective and efficient working of the Northern Ireland criminal justice system;
  • Obtain assurance on the quality of the science; and
  • Make recommendations for improvement.
Any other matters arising during the inspection if considered appropriate by CJI may be included.  As the inspection progresses, Inspectors may also determine it necessary to focus on a specific aspect of the terms of reference while always adopting a risk based approach.
The inspection will be based on the CJI Inspection Framework for each inspection that it conducts. The three main elements of the inspection framework are:
  • Strategy and governance;
  • Delivery; and
  • Outcomes.
Constants in each of the three framework elements and throughout each inspection are equality and fairness, together with standards and best practice.  The inspection methodology can be found at www.cjini.org.
Design and Planning
The planning stage of the inspection will include:

Preliminary research
  • Procurement of specialist external expertise to assist CJI Inspectors and provide advice on science, specialist aspects and benchmarking with other jurisdictions and providers of forensic services; and
  • Collection and review of relevant documentation such as corporate and business plans, external reports, internal strategies, policies, minutes of meetings, performance management, financial management and monitoring information, business statistics, risk registers, internal and external surveys and any other relevant internal reviews, papers and correspondence.
  • Collection and review of documentation and reviews regarding delivery of forensic services in other jurisdictions.
Contact with agency; exploratory stakeholder meetings
  • Planning meetings with FSNI and PSNI senior management;
  • Identify liaison person in FSNI and the PSNI; and
  • Planning meeting with key stakeholders.
The fieldwork stages of the inspection will comprise:

Self Assessment
  • Request bespoke self-assessments from FSNI and the PSNI including provision of relevant supporting documentation.
  • Development of fieldwork plan;
  • Meetings (interviews and focus groups) in FSNI, the PSNI and the DoJ;
  • Stakeholder meetings including the PPS, the Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service (NICTS), State Pathologist’s Department, the OPONI, the Judiciary and members of the legal profession;
  • Analysis of data;
  • Benchmarking with other service providers such as police services and forensic science laboratories in neighbouring jurisdictions; and
  • Emerging findings to inspected organisations.
Publication and Closure

Writing up report
  • Writing up draft report;
  • Factual accuracy check with FSNI, the PSNI and the DoJ;
  • Ministerial approval;
  • Press release;
  • Identification of publication date;
  • Publication arrangements; and
  • Action plan in response to recommendations (possible incorporation as appendix to report).
It is planned for fieldwork to take place in March and April 2023 with a draft final report by August/September 2023.  The inspection will be led by James Corrigan, Deputy Chief Inspector of CJI, with specialist external forensic science support.