The British government has decided to close the Forensic Science Service—seriously. I’m not joking. On December 14, 2010, the British government announced that by March 2012, the FSS would be closed down. But by the time this article goes to print you will probably have already heard all of this. It is a monumental event in the forensic science community. If it is part of your routine to read this magazine, you are “in tune” enough with that community to already be aware that one of the most important forensic science institutions in the world is being shut down or at least sold off.And while those working for, or closely with, the Service are not completely surprised—when I asked one friend of mine who recently left the FSS if he was surprised he responded, “Why do you think I left!?”—my guess is that around the world people who have relied on the FSS for research, technical assistance, and vision are fairly shocked.
In referring to the Forensic Science Service and its impending closure, none other than Sir Alec Jefferies himself called the FSS, “an absolute flagship of British forensic science.” I would be so bold as to expand the knighted scientist’s characterization to a more global context. The Forensic Science Service has been a beacon of science in the pursuit of justice for much of the world. Particularly in the post Colin Pitchfork era, forensic science and law enforcement agencies across the globe at some point in time in their development (and usually early on in that process) have asked the question, “How does the FSS do it?”
The Service’s scientists have been leaders throughout the world’s forensic science organizations, associations, and working groups. For years the FSS was at the helm of the European Network of Forensic Science Institutes (ENFSI) DNA Working Group as well as a major force in Interpol’s DNA Profiling Monitoring Expert Group. When the United States Department of Justice sought to focus the direction of DNA technology in the United States through the National Commission on the Future of DNA Evidence, Dave Werret and Lynn Fereday from the FSS were some of the first people asked to testify about the way forward.
From a DNA perspective, the most significant accomplishment of the FSS was the development and actual implementation of DNA technology as a genuine investigative tool through the DNA database. As a representative of the Metropolitan Police Service once said in reference to the United Kingdom’s use of forensic science, “A strategic shift had taken place in the use of forensic science following the development of forensic intelligence databases that identify suspects rather than provide evidence for the courts.” Because of the FSS, the United Kingdom has provided an example of maximizing the potential of forensic DNA evidence that few countries have been able to match.