SFR was first introduced across England and Wales in 2012 and continues to play an important part in the criminal justice process. Following its adoption by the FCN in 2020, the SFR Board has performed a vital role in ensuring effective, consistent and coordinated activity nationally to meet the needs of all stakeholders. We want to give you a brief update on progress since our last report in the Spring of 2022 and a flavour for where we are focussing our efforts over the next 6 months.
Governance and signposting
The FCN is now operating to its new, more focused remit and the community have confirmed that the provision of national advice and guidance forms a critical part of that. At the last SFR Board, Vickie Burgin, Director of Forensic Science Development and Chair of the SFR Board, proposed a new governance structure and route for risk escalation relating to SFR Board activity. Going forwards, the Board agreed that Vickie would report directly into the NPCC Forensic Portfolio Board under CC Nick Dean and would share information with the wider community via the Forensic Community Reference Group led by Michelle Painter of West Midlands Police.
We also recognise that, as the remit of SFR expands and Board membership continues to grow, matters brought to the Board are diverse in nature and not always directly aligned to the purpose and responsibilities of the group. In order to ensure that the Board remains focused on addressing the needs of our stakeholders, we have agreed a process for referring some issues to more appropriate Boards and groups, such as the NPCC Quality Board, the Association of Forensic Service Providers (AFSP) and the Fingerprint and Footwear Board. This will be documented in a revised Terms of Reference.
New to SFR: Evidential Drug Identification Testing (EDIT)
Evidential Drug Identification Testing (EDIT) was introduced to simplify and speed up the process for dealing with possession only drug cases by utilising Home Office approved drug testing kits (DTKs) and drug testing devices (DTDs) within policing. In the past, the results of these tests have often been reported using MG22B (SFR1) reports, however, this has never been formally approved by the SFR Board and all relevant stakeholders. The principles for extension to scope have now been applied to EDIT and this will be recognised as an approved discipline in the next version of the National SFR Guidance. This coincides with the release of the NPCC Good Practice Guide for EDIT, following a review facilitated by the FCN on behalf of the community. Together, these guidance documents explain the process to follow to support quick disposal decisions in cases where there is suspected unlawful possession of a controlled drug for personal use. As with all new disciplines, there is a requirement for policing to work locally with CPS and criminal justice partners to ensure appropriate awareness, engagement, and buy-in as the use of SFR is extended.
New to SFR: Lachrymators and Simple Noxious Substances
In the past, the results of forensic testing for lachrymators and other noxious substances have often been reported using MG22B (SFR1) reports, however, this has never been formally approved by the SFR Board and all relevant stakeholders. The principles for extension to scope have now been applied to these evidence types and they will be recognised as approved disciplines in the next version of the National SFR Guidance.
Use of SFR in Toxicology
Whilst the use of the SFR process for reporting both Road Traffic Toxicology and Casework Toxicology findings has been in place for many years, there remains disparity amongst suppliers with respect to how ‘Alcohol Technical Defence’ (ATD) cases should be reported, largely driven by varying customer expectations. Debbie Sharp, FCN Lead Scientist and deputy chair of the SFR Board has provided a briefing paper for all Board members, highlighting 4 possible options for future reporting of ATD cases. The Board has been asked to consider these options ahead of the next meeting in January 2023, when a decision will be made.
Following the implementation of the Supplementary Technical Note and Gatekeeper Guidance for Road Traffic Toxicology cases, the FCN continue to monitor the number of SFR2 and data pack requests. We are aware of an emerging trend in requests for whole batch test results in addition to the Batch Summary Sheet, and we are working with our Expert Network Lead for Toxicology SFR (Emma Pagdin of Eurofins) and CPS to finalise two briefing notes – one for FSPs to ensure a consistent approach and one for CPS Gateway that will explain why disclosure of whole batch test results is not necessary in order to comply with CrimPR 19.3(3)(d).
Use of SFR in the Coronial Court System
Following feedback and discussions at the SFR Board, we have commenced engagement with one of the Deputy Chief Coroners for England and Wales, Derek Winter DL, to discuss how scientific findings introduced as part of a police investigation using the SFR process, can be used at coroner’s inquests. We are aware of some coroner’s courts where this is already happening successfully and following early conversations, we are hopeful that the Chief Coroner will support a consistent approach nationally, through the release of Chief Coroner’s guidance and regional training events.
Use of SFR for Digital Forensics
On behalf of the community, the FCN are working together with our CPS colleagues to define a nationally approved scope for reporting digital findings via the SFR process. Once a consensus has been reached, further information will be included within the National SFR Guidance, and the CPS website will be updated.
In conjunction with our Expert Network Lead for Digital SFR, Eddie Fisher of the Metropolitan Police Service, we continue to develop our understanding of the SFR landscape in terms of digital reporting, and given the high pace of change in this area of forensics, we have been considering how digital SFR can be best governed to ensure knowledge gaps are filled and there is appropriate oversight and controlled expansion, not just in ‘core’ DFU activity, but wider front line intelligence services such as digital geolocation and vehicle telematics. Hence, we have created a ‘Digital Oversight Group’, chaired by the FCN’s Lead Scientist for Digital Forensics, Simon Cullen. We are also at the early stages of considering whether the SFR process may be appropriate for CCTV evidence, through our community engagement with the CCTV User Group.
The SFR Board, in collaboration with Eurofins Forensic Services and North East Region Forces, have been running a pilot for reporting fibres cases using the SFR process, since 1st March 2022. So far, this has been successful but due to the low number of cases, the pilot will continue for at least 12 months, and it is anticipated that other forensic providers and Forces will come on board once new physical forensic contracts have fully transitioned and embedded. A new Expert Network Group (ENG) has been established for ‘Marks and Traces’ disciplines; this will be led by Louissa Marsh of Eurofins.
In 2020, the Forensic Science Regulator (FSR) set out the requirements for Sexual Assault Referral Centres (SARC) to be compliant with FSR regulations and accredited to the standard ISO 15189 by October 2023 (now amended to within 24 months of the effective date of the FSR Code). FCN continue to support SARCs on their journey towards meeting these requirements, which includes the development of a Quality Management System (QMS) and Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs). Supplementary to this, we are working in collaboration with the Faculty for Forensic and Legal Medicine (FFLM), and members of the forensic science sub-committee , to understand whether the findings of Forensic Medical Examinations and exhibits created during them, can be introduced into investigations and the criminal justice system using the SFR process.
We have provided assurances that the template SFR forms (for all approved disciplines), will only be re-issued when absolutely necessary, so as to prevent numerous changes to Case Management Systems in forensic units where the production of SFRs is automated. Whilst we recognise that the changes necessary to reflect the new requirements laid out in GEN6 (declaration of accreditation status on all reports) are now overdue, we are also anticipating further changes once the Forensic Science Regulator Code is live. The Code is due to be approved by Parliament in the first quarter of 2023 and it is expected that the Code will become effective 6 months after Parliamentary approval and publishing.. We have canvassed opinion from our SFR Board members, and the SFR Forms Group, regarding when we should release our next versions of the MG22 template forms and associated Annexes. The consensus view of the community is that new templates should not be released until the implications of the FSR’s Statutory Code are fully understood and the final version is live.
However, we have commenced our annual review of the SFR National Guidance; the proposed updates to version 4 are due to be tabled for discussion at the next National SFR Board at the end of January 2023 and published in February 2023. We will be continuing to work with our Expert Network Leads to expand discipline specific sections of the guidance, to ensure the information remains relevant and informative. We are also developing a section specifically to support practitioners working within Fingerprint Enhancement Laboratories.
Our community of practitioners within policing and the private sector have asked for clarity over the use of author names on MG22B reports. In principle, CPS support the removal of names from all MG22B reports and we are aware of certain disciplines (Road Traffic Toxicology, for example) where this has become the norm. We have issued a short survey via the National SFR Board representatives to help understand the present landscape across all disciplines and how people feel about a single national approach. Based on the results of the survey and discussions at SFR Board in October 2022, it is unlikely that a consensus view will be reached for all evidence types.
The National SFR Board continues to hold meetings on a quarterly basis, and the intention is now to alternate between virtual and in-person events.
We are very grateful to the Metropolitan Police Service who have offered to host our next Board meeting on the 26th January 2023 at their premises in Lambeth.
The SFR Board includes representation from all policing regions, the main private forensic providers, CPS, HMCTS, the Judiciary, the Home Office and the Legal Aid Agency. If you are actively involved in the SFR process and do not feel you have a voice on the Board, drop us a line and we’ll put you in touch with the appropriate representative.
Find all the SFR documents here: