Review recognises progress but keeps up pressure on FSNI

A follow up inspection of Forensic Science Northern Ireland (FSNI) by Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland (CJI) has found improved management arrangements since it was initially inspected two years ago.

Inspectors saw a more determined approach to tacking the problems of the Agency, and noted that several of the critical recommendations set out in CJI’s 2005 report surrounding corporate governance and better strategic relationships with the police, had been achieved.
“CJI welcomes this effort and the renewed commitment expressed by the Agency’s new Chief Executive Stan Brown to implementing the outstanding recommendations. However, we were disappointed by the initial lack of progress in the year after the report was published,” said Kit Chivers, Chief Inspector of Criminal Justice in Northern Ireland.
“While we found evidence of progress in many areas, we are unable at this time, to sign off as complete 22 of the 35 recommendations made in the original report and therefore propose to carry out another full inspection of FSNI in 2008,” he said.
Mr Chivers said the follow-up review had confirmed that regular strategic and joint planning meetings between FSNI’s management team, senior officers within the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) and the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) were now taking place. 
“This is a positive development as we recognise that future improvements in some areas are dependent on external support, particularly from the NIO and the PSNI,” he said.
Mr Chivers continued: “Inspectors were also pleased to note that the quality of its science is clearly paramount on the Agency’s agenda and that UKAS accreditation has been maintained and extended.”
But Inspectors were dissatisfied with the lack of progress made towards agreeing and introducing a common numbering and identification system between FSNI and PSNI.
“While FSNI has developed a barcode system to track all items from receipt through the laboratory examination process, this system has not yet been integrated with the PSNI numbering system,” he said.
The Inspectorate was also disappointed to find the Agency had not developed new markets into which it could sell its specialist expertise in areas such as trace explosives and firearms, and that an external communications strategy had not been produced.
“At present, there is not enough demand within Northern Ireland to sustain FSNI’s capabilities in these areas. A failure to develop these new markets could result in the closure or restriction of the service or require a subsidy from the PSNI or wider criminal justice system,” warned the Chief Inspector.
Mr Chivers concluded: “We acknowledge this review coincided with a significant restructuring of management within the Agency. The top level arrangements are coming into place and we look to the new Chief Executive to build on the progress already made and to fully implement the remaining recommendations.”