Organizing and Supplying Forensic Science Services Research Paper

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The issue of how to organize and regulate the provision of forensic scientific services is a topic which has attracted increasing discussion. Concerns have been expressed about whether police control of forensic laboratories best serves the interests of justice. Elsewhere, instances of official scrutiny have made a link between the efficiency of forensic science laboratories and the capacity of police forces to combat crime. In response to ongoing controversy over the quality and timeliness of forensic science, recent decades have seen an increase in calls to reform its provision along market-led lines. Such reforms have been pursued with particular vigor in England and Wales. Developments in this jurisdiction have however raised considerable controversy, particularly in the light of the announcement in December 2010 to close the leading forensic science provider, the Forensic Science Service (FSS).


This research paper first devotes attention to exploring the arguments for and against the regulation of forensic science through competitive and market-led means. Attention is drawn upon the experience of England and Wales in order to give a flavor of the empirical consequences of such policies. Attention is also devoted to exploring how discourses of “marketization” and “liberalization” have been differentially interpreted and the resultant implications for the epistemic character of forensic science. While less data currently exists regarding developments in other jurisdictions, A brief overview is provided of those states where reform has been considered or where it poses further issues.

This research paper is organized to provide information regarding the following topics:

– Arguments and counterarguments for the commercial reform of forensic science

– The empirical impact of market reforms to forensic science?

– The effect of commercialization on the epistemic character of forensic scientific knowledge

– Measuring and codifying the “value” of forensic science

– Comparing the experience of commercialization in England and Wales with other jurisdictions

The Arguments For And Against A Competitive Market For Forensic Science

Concerns over the quality of forensic science have been accompanied by calls to reconsider ways of organizing the production of scientific knowledge within criminal justice systems. Suggested reforms to the shaping and provision of forensic science have sought to redress perceived disadvantages to defendants. Other calls for reform have sought to improve the efficiency of analyses and to help maximize the use of forensic science by police forces.

The effect of institutional structure on the nature of forensic scientific knowledge has received particularly comprehensive attention through the work of Roger Koppl (2005, 2006, 2010). These studies of forensic science in the USA have drawn upon a series of theoretical and methodological perspectives from inter alia economics, social epistemology, and organization studies. These studies indicate that current modes of organization have led to poor-quality work being performed in laboratories, with high risks of error, bias, or even outright scientific fraud. Koppl (2005) argues that eight features of forensic science organization in US laboratories contribute to suboptimal quality: (a) the monopoly that each laboratory holds over the evidence it analyzes, with no other laboratory likely to analyze the same evidence; (b) dependence on police forces, under which they are normally organized and whom they depend on for funding; (c) weak quality control systems; (d) ability of forensic scientists to gain information about case circumstances which may prejudice how they interpret evidence; also (e) no division of labor between analysis and interpretation (i.e., the scientist who performs the technical work of an analysis also interprets the results and reports them to police); (f) lack of forensic counsel for defendants, creating an information asymmetry; (g) lack of competition to provide defense services; and (h) public ownership of forensic laboratories which Koppl argues reinforces the dependence on police. This dependence is also seemingly compounded by performance criteria for law enforcement agencies which include numbers of arrests, prosecutions, and convictions. Koppl (2010) argues that these conditions promote bias toward the prosecution: “When making a monopolistic subjective judgment about ambiguous evidence, forensic scientists in the employ of law enforcement agencies have an incentive to interpret evidence in ways that support the interests of law enforcement” (Koppl 2010, p. 79).

In addressing these perceived shortcomings, Koppl has suggested a number of measures. Perhaps the most notable of these interventions concerns proposals to overturn the monopoly control that US forensic laboratories hold over evidential analysis. Koppl (2006) uses the term “monopoly epistemics” to describe this arrangement. Drawing upon experimental data, Koppl argues that the analysis of forensic evidence at multiple sites decreases the chance of error or bias and that the presence of multiple suppliers of information to the judge and jury improves decision-making on the part of the latter (Koppl 2005). Building on these arguments, a different arrangement has been proposed, described as “competitive self-regulation” (Koppl 2005). This involves the introduction of competition within a jurisdiction, with multiple laboratories able to analyze the same evidence. Forensic scientists in one laboratory may not know whether evidence in a specific instance is also being analyzed elsewhere, but awareness of this possibility should facilitate a higher quality of scientific work. Competitive self-regulation also involves the hiding of extraneous, circumstantial information from forensic analysts so that work proceeds in a context-free environment.

While the rigorous application of economic and organization theory to forensic science administration is to be welcomed, certain criticisms of the work of Koppl et al. can be identified. The argument that the quality of forensic scientific work improves in the absence of contextual information is not accepted by all. This therefore remains a key point of contention. Even if one accepts Koppl’s position, the question remains as to what exactly constitutes “contextual” information and to what extent it can be fully excluded from analysis. Koppl’s arguments also do not reflect the distinction between traces (collected at a crime scene) and the subsequent production of evidence presented in court. A variety of processes may be involved in transforming traces into evidence, and forensic scientists themselves have multiple roles (forensic science culture).

Koppl’s suggestions for reorganizing forensic work also do not allow for the possibility that the same individual employees may be involved in a reformed system. Previous career experience of casework could still permeate into forensic practice even in a rearranged working environment, which could perpetuate bias. Another issue concerns the involvement of multiple laboratories. While in theory this could be effective, serious practical problems could result from a lack of sufficient evidence to distribute to multiple sites of analysis. DNA evidence, for example, may only be present in trace quantities which might preclude multiple analyses. Further, if single evidential items are recovered from an incident, the nature of certain forensic tests may irreversibly alter the nature of the source evidence which might not make it amenable to subsequent tests under “blind” conditions.

Koppl et al. also argue in their work for the replacement of state dependency with a privatized mode of forensic science provision. In justifying this argument Koppl regards publicly owned laboratories as having weak financial incentives to improve the quality of work. Other commentators have also previously advocated the advantages of private firms entering forensic science markets. In an earlier assessment of forensic science in England and Wales, Gallop (1992) argued that the presence of independent firms would be advantageous to both defendants and forensic scientists working alongside the police. Gallop argued that the presence of an independent sector could remove the burden from government scientists being distracted by defense considerations (although in some jurisdictions, two scientists may respectively work for opposite sides in a case). With defendants being well served by commercial options, government scientists would be free to fully focus on prosecution work. Gallop also argued that an expansion of the sector naturally provided more career opportunities for government scientists, contributing to a healthy employment base and sense of professional collegiality.

Gallop (2003) made later arguments in favor of the route to privatization, advocating further potential benefits including (Gallop 2003, p. 59):

– Proper choice for police forces, allowing them to be more demanding in terms of quality, cost, and speed of service

– An expansion of the number of forensic laboratories

– Easier access to the forensic science community

– Better quality assurance standards

Fraser (2005) argued that privatizing reforms were necessary to improve the efficiency and turnover rate of casework. Even with a relatively modest degree of reform, Fraser argued that the speed of delivery in England and Wales compared far more favorably to publicly funded laboratories in other jurisdictions, seen to be characterized by incessant backlogs. A 2002 report of forensic science in the USA, for example, found a backlog of 500,000 cases (Fraser 2005, p. 119). More recent data from New Zealand also supports the claim that some form of economic restructuring has helped to clear backlogs (Bedford 2010).

As we shall see, market reforms in the UK were largely motivated by efficiency concerns. Not all commentators however agreed that such policies were appropriate for forensic science. In one prominent early intervention, Roberts (1996) provided a critical review of the arguments for marketization. In addressing the issue of market-based reforms, Roberts scrutinized the arguments for a free market in forensic science on its own terms. Considering the economic arguments “squarely on their merits” (Roberts 1996, p. 56), Roberts made three predictions which argued against the use of market mechanisms in forensic service provision. First, was the argument that coordination problems would prevent the production of necessary public goods, in this case research findings and datasets which could lead to improvements in forensic science as a whole. Roberts argued that the commercialization of forensic science held no incentives for actors to pool resources to promote innovation in the area, nor to provide resources of common utility or to improve standards. Second was the argument that the predominant position of the UK’s FSS would block fair and true competition. Rather than creating an environment which promoted efficiency through competition, the “vast resources and unparalleled expertise” of the FSS were viewed at the time as risking driving smaller companies out of the market, leaving the FSS “with an unregulated monopoly interest” in forensic service provision. Third, and most significant according to Roberts, was that criminal justice only resembled a market in an “imperfect and attenuated sense” (Roberts 1996, p. 47). Roberts argued that a market system would fail to meet the needs of all its “consumers,” particularly defendants. Access for this group to forensic scientific services was viewed as being determined not by the laws of supply and demand but by the availability of Legal Aid (Roberts 1996, p. 56). Another key consumer group, the police, was seen as constrained by budgetary limitations and the need to balance other spending priorities. Roberts argued that the emergence of charging for forensic services would risk police forces selecting cheaper (but not necessarily high-quality) services or cutting back on their use of forensic science altogether.

The empirical consequences of attempts to shape a forensic marketplace in England and Wales are outlined in the next section. Particular attention is devoted to this jurisdiction as it is here where commercialization has been pursued in a particularly systematic and comprehensive way, and for which a substantial amount of data exists. As we shall see however, commercialization has aroused considerable controversy, linked in part to the proposed plan to close the FSS.

Tracing The Emergence Of Forensic Marketplaces: The Example Of England And Wales

The effectiveness through which police forces in England and Wales apply scientific techniques in the course of their work became the subject of considerable official discussion from the late 1970s onward. In 1987, a survey conducted by accountants Touche Ross concluded that police management of scientific support was “generally poor” (Touche Ross 1987). It portrayed an environment in which forensic technologies had begun to significantly expand in terms of potential scope but had not been fully utilized to address a rise in serious crime. Among the many issues considered in this report was the scope for changes in the method of funding and organization of the FSS, the sole provider of forensic science to the police at the time. The FSS was then a state agency, publicly funded by a central grant. Concluding that the police management of scientific support (both in-house and externally provided by the FSS) was “generally poor” (Touche Ross 1987, p. 3), the report recommended the appointment of managers of scientific support in each force. Each such manager would be employed by police forces (as opposed to an agency such as the FSS) and be responsible for the provision of all scientific services and the management of their own force forensic science budgets. This step represented one sign of the growing devolution of budget responsibilities to operational law enforcement actors.

The Royal Commission on Criminal Justice which reported to Parliament in July 1993 recognized the emergent policy discourses surrounding the possibility of market reform of forensic science. The Royal Commission had been established in the light of several high-profile miscarriages of justice and in direct response to the decisions by the Court of Appeal to quash the convictions of the Guildford Four and the Birmingham Six. While the Commission addressed a wide-ranging series of issues relating to criminal justice, two notable themes were advanced in its conclusions regarding forensic science (Roberts 1996). First, it provided “cautious endorsement” (Roberts 1996) of further development of free market competition for forensic scientific services. Secondly, it recognized the considerable growth in the number and variety of private firms offering scientific support to both prosecution and defense, which reflected concerns about how the quality of forensic science could be maintained (Roberts 1996, p. 39).

As the 1990s progressed, other firms had begun to emerge in direct competition with the FSS, such as LGC, Scientifics Ltd, and Forensic Alliance. During the same period, the FSS introduced product-based charging, where each product, such as a body fluid search, tool mark examination, or cannabis identification, was defined as encompassing a wider set of activities. This new definition of “product” as activity was intended to reflect more closely the actual work performed, “thus providing customers with a better understanding of the true costs of services and enabling them to make informed judgments about their value” (NAO 1998, p. 30). As the pricing strategies of forensic service providers began to become more sophisticated, sign emerged that forces were exploiting the new market conditions. Communication between the FSS and police improved, and the FSS educated police officers about the value of certain forms of evidence.

Some of these assertions about the benefits of the emerging marketplace were supported in the government-commissioned McFarland review of the FSS, completed in 2003. This review explicitly addressed the “effectiveness of the organization in meeting the needs of the criminal justice system in terms of the quality, timeliness and cost effectiveness of its services” (McFarland 3.1). McFarland also assessed the management and business structures of the FSS in the light of possible increased competition for forensic science services (McFarland 2003). Forensic science providers (FSPs) were, at this time, offering volume discounts and loyalty schemes, which convinced the McFarland review that a “truly competitive market” was “beginning to develop” in UK forensics (McFarland 2003). Furthermore, the review went on to argue that the introduction of “best value” principles “had forced the police to seek better value for money in the bought-in services” (McFarland 2003), and that the police had become “informed customers,” playing off “suppliers against each other.” McFarland concluded that police forces were adapting well to the new market conditions and that true competition was “beginning to develop” in UK forensics (McFarland 2003, Section 3.1). Police reported that they had begun to receive “a more personalized and responsive service” from suppliers, which was taken as a sign that competition had started to yield the kind of benefits claimed by advocates of marketization, such as “greater choice, value for money and improved service delivery” (McFarland 2003, Section 3.3). The McFarland review also recommended that the FSS should make the transition toward full privatization, although this never occurred. The FSS was however converted into a “government company” (“GovCo”) in 2005, obliged to run on a profit-making basis.

At around the same time, Fraser (2003) outlined a typology of this evolving “forensic marketplace.” This analysis distinguished between strategic suppliers, primary niche suppliers, secondary niche suppliers, primary individual suppliers, and secondary individual suppliers. Here, strategic suppliers were regarded as providing a comprehensive range of police support services and able to supply these services in an integrated way. These organizations had the potential however to be relatively inflexible in terms of the products and services they offered and potentially highly bureaucratic. Primary niche suppliers were perceived to display a similar level of experience in the forensic sector to strategic suppliers, but to differ in that they were seen to provide a far narrower range of products or services, albeit to a high standard. Secondary niche suppliers were to seen differ in that the main functions of the organization may not be to provide forensic science, but that this may be one of a portfolio of different scientific services. The knowledge of the broader context of criminal justice that secondary niche suppliers held could potentially be highly variable. Primary individual suppliers were described as individuals who offer particular forms of forensic scientific expertise. This may be highly specialized but might be vulnerable to questions of competence and quality. Finally, secondary individual suppliers described individuals who held specific scientific expertise which might appeal to some of the needs of police forces but not exclusive to forensic science. The experience of criminal justice contexts of such individuals might vary and again were regarded as potentially vulnerable to questions of competence.

Fraser’s typology reflects how the modern marketplace for forensic science in England and Wales had encompassed a diverse array of FSPs with a considerable degree of variance in terms of their size, scope, and product range. Fraser’s overview also highlighted the ongoing concerns over the consistency and quality of scientific work produced within this marketplace. Key oversight bodies such as the National Policing Improvement Agency (NPIA) sought to standardize the level of service provision from FSPs. In August 2008, 12 FSPs, including the FSS, agreed to participate in the National Forensic Framework Agreement (NFFA), which sought to function as an organizing mechanism for forensic science procurement by most police forces in England and Wales. A growing proportion of forensic scientific work remained in the hands of the police forces themselves, however, through the presence of in-house facilities.

The NFFA represented a notable reinforcement of the market system. A BBC radio documentary broadcast in December 2009 however identified serious issues with the commercialization process. It was reported that forensic scientists often disagreed with police over the best course of action during casework, although they were constrained by the contractual arrangements imposed by the NFFA. The program gave an example of one forensic scientist who had contributed to the successful investigation of a case only by ignoring police instructions and pursuing analyses which had not been originally commissioned.

More seriously still, the same documentary reported that the FSS was experiencing severe financial difficulties and had become dependent on government bailouts. By this time the FSS had implemented a “transformation program” which included the closure of three of its regional laboratories, which in turn contributed to speculation over the future of the organization. The announced closure of the FSS by UK Government in December 2010 nonetheless surprised many. It also stimulated a high degree of controversy, with many commentators expressing fears about the future viability of scientific support to police forces. In response the House of Commons Select Committee on Science and Technology conducted an inquiry into the proposed closure, which also focused on the state of the forensic market in England and Wales as a whole.

Although the Committee experienced significant difficulties assessing the exact condition of the forensic science market, the findings indicated that the overall size of the market was in serious decline (House of Commons 2011, p. 15). Police expenditure on external forensic science provision has decreased markedly in previous years. Police forces had, however, invested increasingly in their own “in-house” forensic scientific provision over the same period. While figures for 2010–2011 show a slight decrease in overall police spending on both internal and external provision, the former continued to considerably outweigh the latter. In 2010–2011, the total expenditure of police forces in England and Wales on internal provision was £181 million, compared to £138 million for external services over the same period (House of Commons 2011).

The inquiry heard conflicting evidence to explain the shrinkage of the market. The NPIA claimed that the reduction in external spend had been caused by the NFFA, leading to forces enjoying considerable savings on their external spend. Other witnesses to the inquiry pointed out however that forces may have viewed in-sourcing as a cheaper option in the light of wider budget cuts (House of Commons 2011, p. 17). The House of Commons Committee criticized the trends toward in-sourcing. Such a shift, with the customer becoming a competitor to external FSPs, was viewed as undermining the very idea of a fully functioning market for forensic science. The Committee also reported “almost unanimous alarm” (House of Commons 2011, p. 35) about forensic science in police laboratories, which were not subject to the same quality accreditation procedures as those of external FSPs. The inquiry concluded by expressing concerns “about the risks to impartiality of forensic evidence produced by nonaccredited police laboratories” (House of Commons, p. 43). It also highlighted what it perceived to be a more serious risk, namely, “the introduction of bias based on selective forensic examination of exhibits, arising from the need to make savings.” The Committee concluded that a reliance on in-sourced forensic practitioners would increase the risk of the collection of evidence being influenced by immediate policing concerns rather than working in the more balanced interests of justice.

Commercialization And The Epistemic Character Of Forensic Scientific Knowledge

The possibility of increasing in-sourcing returns us to some of the concerns expressed by Koppl et al. regarding the effect of organizational context on forensic reasoning. The question of how commercialization has affected the epistemological foundations of forensic science is one that has been recently explored by the author and colleagues (Lawless 2011; Lawless and Williams 2010). These studies have explored how liberalizing policies have been interpreted by actors in different ways, manifesting themselves in varying infrastructural arrangements for the market-led provision of forensic science. Differing initiatives can be seen to construct the epistemic character of forensic science in differing ways.

Initiatives such as the Case Assessment and Investigation (CAI) model, originally developed on behalf of the FSS, arose partly due to the challenges posed by the introduction of charging. CAI, a framework for evaluating evidence incorporating principles of Bayesian probability, was aimed at reforming practices of evidence interpretation and first introduced during 1990s. At the same time, it was also intended to help police optimize value for money from forensic science, as the newly introduced market conditions began to take hold. The type of forensic knowledge produced via CAI displays a markedly distinct epistemic character (Lawless and Williams 2010). Here, the evaluation of evidence is reported in probabilistic terms, allowing for both the contextual interpretation of “prosecution” and “defense” positions. This reflects the intent to shape a more balanced view of forensic evidence. CAI consciously facilitates the reporting of interpretative data in a way which conveys its utility to a specific investigation and the financial cost of its processing. The initiative therefore represents a manifestation of marketized forensic knowledge which seeks to manage the relationship between the “producers” and “consumers” of forensic science, in a way which accounts for both epistemic risk and budgetary concerns.

The kind of forensic epistemology promoted by CAI has had to compete however with contending appropriations of commercialization. As described above, the NFFA served to formalize the manner in which the various police forces enter into service agreements with external forensic science providers (FSPs). It aimed to guarantee to police forces a standardized form of scientific support across a range of criminal investigative functions. These functions, or “work packages,” range from routine scientific analyses in areas such as DNA analysis, fire investigation, or footwear analysis to far more complex “casework” packages in which forensic scientists may act in a more investigative role. Each work package is highly specified and costed. The NFFA has however received significant criticism for constraining the investigative contribution forensic scientists can make to criminal casework. Research by the author (Lawless 2011) indicates that NFFA is regarded as having severely challenged the professional autonomy of forensic scientists. Elsewhere, NFFA is reported as having maximized the “commodification and disaggregation of supply” (House of Commons 2011) with a number of different providers handling different tests in a single investigation. This has prevented the systematic exchange of “contextual information and scientific results as anticipated by CAI” (House of Commons 2011). The NFFA is perceived to have seriously reduced the ability of scientists to use their initiative in the course of investigations, giving more relative power to the police. Although some scope exists within the NFFA for FSPs to explicitly provide evidence interpretation services, these are costed more highly than basic analytical work. One witness to the inquiry alleged that too often, police took the cheaper option: “Getting a DNA profile does not necessarily solve a crime but is a lot cheaper than interpretation of how the DNA got there, which is the more important aspect of successfully solving a crime” (House of Commons 2011, p. 22).

CAI and NFFA represent different ways in which marketization has been interpreted to reform forensic science. Scientists may prize scientific objectivity, but police may simply demand want technical support and may be less keen on the investigative contribution scientists might want to contribute. The presence of contending appropriations of commercialized forensic science exposes the coordination problems facing a heterogeneous set of stakeholders. These actors have experienced considerable difficulty in mediating between differing expectations of forensic science. Disagreements manifest themselves concerning precisely what constitutes the “products” in the forensic marketplace. Uncertainty about the nature of the final “product” also impacts upon problems concerning how the overall quality of these “products” can be judged and ultimately how they should be priced. Judging the “value” or “effectiveness” of forensic science has therefore become a highly complicated matter.

Likewise, measuring the quality of forensic science is fraught with a number of complications. Firstly, forensic science encompasses a considerably wide array of specialisms, some of which are employed more often than others. Establishing generic forms for assessing all of these provides a significant challenge. Second, the definition of quality as “fitness for purpose” raises problems in a criminal justice context. Multiple purposes are apparent. For example, forensic science can be used to eliminate an individual from suspicion as well as helping to secure a conviction. Third, complications are apparent if one considers that the production of forensic scientific data can be separated from its interpretation in the course of specific case circumstances. In the adversarial context, poor-quality scientific work may still be able to help secure a conviction. Likewise, the products of high-quality scientific labor may still fail to satisfy the court (Gallop 1992). Efforts to measure the quality of forensic science are complicated by questions about exactly who is the final “customer” of forensic science (York 2011) – with inter alia police, defendants, lawyers, and victims of crime all raising a claim but with different needs and priorities.

While England and Wales has the most extensive experience of the marketization of forensic science, other jurisdictions have responded in different ways to the challenge of organizing and procuring forensic science. In the next section, a brief overview is provided of developments elsewhere.

Forensic Marketplaces In Other Jurisdictions

In Scotland and Northern Ireland, forensic science is provided via single organizations working alongside the police, and in the Republic of Ireland, forensic science is still controlled by the country’s police force, the Garda Siochana. In the USA, it has long been recognized that the commercial sector played an important role in advancing the development and use of forensic science, particularly recent technologies like DNA profiling. However, while commercial science firms have supplied equipment, and in some cases consulting services, most forensic laboratories remain under public control, via law enforcement agencies.

US forensic science has been regarded as having existed in a largely unregulated environment (Koops et al. 2010). Partly in response to concerns about the status of forensic science, the US National Academy of Sciences submitted a report to the Department of Justice in 2009. Among other shortcomings, the report highlighted an array of serious resource disparities across local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies (Critical Report on Forensic Science, NAS 2009, p. 5). Severe inequalities in skilled personnel, equipment, and funding were identified. Although activities at the federal level were found to be relatively well-supported, state and local jurisdictions, the sites of the vast majority of criminal law enforcement, were often found to be “sorely lacking” in the kinds of resources needed to facilitate and maintain suitably robust forensic laboratory infrastructures (NAS 2009, p. 6). The report concluded that these inequalities strongly contributed to a substantial variation in the “depth, reliability, and overall quality” of information arising from forensic examinations (ibid). Resourcing problems were also found to continue to perpetuate severe backlogs (page ref).

The NAS proposed a solution to these types of issues which significantly contrasted with the reforms implemented in England and Wales. Rather than promoting further market competition, the NAS argued for the establishment of a publicly funded “National Institute of Forensic Science” (NIFS), an independent federal body to oversee the development of forensic science at all jurisdictional levels within the USA. Overall however, the question of the economics of forensic science received relatively little attention in the report compared to other concerns such as standards and interpretation issues.

Marketization has yet to be implemented in most other jurisdictions, although there are some examples where a concern with the economics of forensic science is evident. In New Zealand, for example, forensic scientific support is provided solely by Environmental Science and Research (ESR), a government-owned research institute which since 1992 has operated on a “user-pays” system similar to the direct charging model associated with the early reforms to forensic science in England and Wales. ESR currently operates on a “fee for service” billing model where every product or service is priced (Bedford 2010). Although most prices are unit-based (“units” referring to, e.g., a DNA test, a drug identification, and a screening procedure), some pricing is time based. This brings with a considerable accounting overhead including the need for a sophisticated laboratory information management system (LIMS) and financial management system (Bedford 2010).

There are some signs that some jurisdictions are beginning to seriously consider implementing competitive market systems. Most notably, Koops et al. (2010) have recently carried out an assessment of the forensic scientific landscape in the Netherlands. In their study they explicitly address the question of whether some degree of competition should be introduced in this jurisdiction. In their exploration of this question, they tentatively conclude that competition may be an option for some specialisms within forensic science, provided the quality of providers can be guaranteed and competition is introduced on a gradual basis. In their survey, however, they found opinions to be divided about whether competition could be introduced and at what pace.

Little data is currently available on attitudes to the marketization of forensic science in emerging or developing economies. De Ungria and Jose (2010) do however provide some illumination about the economics of forensic science in the Philippines. They point out that in this kind of economy, the establishment of technologies such as DNA databases involves difficult political decisions to allocate a significant proportion of resources from an already limited national budget (De Ungria and Jose 2010, p. 324). Such technologies have to compete for budget priority with a raft of fundamental concerns such as those relating to basic healthcare, education, and poverty amelioration. At issue here are matters of tradeoffs between short – and long-term national benefits. Efforts to address health, education, and welfare issues hold tangible, perceptible benefits. Investment in DNA databasing may carry long-term benefits in terms of crime reduction and improved national security but represents something of a calculated risk. The devotion of resources to expensive technologies where the future expected utilities are uncertain is a particularly difficult decision for developing economies. Further, the successful implementation of advanced forensic technologies naturally involves a well-trained and motivated workforce and requires a suitably robust management and technical infrastructure, which comes at a price. These kinds of overheads may place an extra burden on the crime and policing budgets of developing nations. Some countries may opt to rely on the expertise in university science sectors, which has been suggested by some English commentators (Mennell 2006).

Given the risks of the success of such technology, and the need to provide common goods, it is difficult to envisage what clear incentives exist for commercial firms to enter such markets. Possible intervention from such firms may come about only with considerable demands attached. Research in science policy has indicated that multinational firms may be otherwise reluctant to transfer technological knowledge and knowhow to developing economies (Pavitt and Patel 1999). It may be that the costs for commercial firms to invest heavily in forensic science in the developing world may outweigh the benefits. Much more research however is needed before any concrete conclusions can be reached.

Conclusion: Future Directions

Further possibilities for research can be gleaned from this exploration of forensic marketplaces. For example, more work is needed on how context shapes the epistemic character of forensic science. The work of Koppl and colleagues provides some very useful data to highlight the consequences of poor-quality forensic science and of the possibilities of competitive regulation. More research in the area of forensic science administration needs to be done however to understand the way in which forensic scientific reasoning is contextually shaped in actual criminal investigative contexts.

In particular, work in this area could focus on further comparisons of the epistemic character of forensic science performed by internal and external providers to the police. This could help meet one pressing issue raised by the recent House of Commons inquiry concerning the possible differences in quality of scientific work carried out in external laboratories and in-sourced facilities. Comparative work could also focus on how certain items are selected for forensic analysis and how forensic traces are collected at the crime scene.

There is also a pressing need for further research on actual or potential forensic marketplaces in other jurisdictions. While the experience of England and Wales provides a useful case study, strong caution must be exercised with regard to the conclusions that can be drawn from a single example. While developments in other jurisdictions across Europe, North America, and Australasia remain of interest, it is equally important to consider how the organization and provision of forensic science is progressing in non-Western and emerging economies. It is in these latter jurisdictions where interesting questions may be raised regarding how the provision of forensic science, possibly through commercialized means, interacts with broader questions regarding economic development and human rights.

The economic outlook across Europe and indeed globally has been highly uncertain. How the character of forensic science may be affected by an adverse (and largely unforeseen) economic climate is only starting to be understood. Many governments have had to make considerable cuts to public spending. In the UK, these spending cuts may strongly impact upon the police, and further cuts to force budgets are likely to continue to affect their spend on forensic science. Police forces have to balance a series of spending priorities, including personnel, transport, equipment, and trained animals, and studies suggest that forensic science may lie low on their priorities (Roberts 1996). The experience of the employees of FSPs under market conditions has not inspired confidence so far, and the future of these firms, and the market system in England and Wales as a whole, is far from certain. At the same time, it is unclear whether forces will continue to invest in further in-house capacity. This may be a difficult decision for forces, as the development of such resources themselves comes with considerable start-up costs and overheads, which appear to be increasing given the need to meet a wider and more stringent range of standards.

This brief overview is nevertheless sufficient to indicate the uncertainties which lie ahead for forensic marketplaces in England and Wales and elsewhere. Predicting the future arrangement of forensic science in an era of rapid technological, political, and economic flux arguably represents the most pressing challenge to researchers.


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