Terms of Reference published for Inspection of Forensic Services in Northern Ireland

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 (PPS), the Police Ombudsman, the DoJ and a range of smaller public and private customers.  FSNI acts as the custodian of the Northern Ireland DNA database and regularly uploads NI DNA profiles with the UK's Forensic Information Database Services.
Forensic Services in the PSNI are currently delivered across two core business areas - Scientific Support Branch and the Cyber Crime Centre.

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 involving a partnership between the FSNI, PSNI and the DoJ.  A new Forensic Services Strategy 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 in conjunction with Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC).  
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 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 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 CJINI 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 PSNI; and
  • Planning meeting with key stakeholders.

The fieldwork stages of the inspection will comprise:
  • Request bespoke self-assessments from FSNI and PSNI including provision of relevant supporting documentation.
  • Development of fieldwork plan;
  • Meetings (interviews and focus groups) in FSNI, PSNI and the DoJ;
  • Stakeholder meetings including PPS, NICTS, State Pathologist’s Department, Office of the Police Ombudsman, Judiciary and members of the legal profession;
  • Analysis of data;
  • Benchmarking with other service providers such as laboratories in Scotland and the Republic of Ireland; and
  • Emerging findings to inspected organisations.
Publication and Closure

Writing up report
  • Writing up draft report;
  • Factual accuracy check with FSNI, PSNI and 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.