Originally designed by law enforcement and the CPS with a view to expediting court cases in England and Wales, streamlined forensic report (SFR) documents the results of forensic testing undertaken. The premise being that the crown presents their forensic science findings on an SFR1 to the defence as early in the proceedings as possible. The defence either accept or refute the evidence and raise it as a ‘real issue’.
When it is raised as a ‘real issue’, the crown are required to either undertake additional testing or provide further detail on their findings in the form of an SFR2 in advance of a trial.
The idea was that by using this system it would allow for cost efficiencies and reduce the lengthy delays that can occur during the course of a case. In practice this is often not the case.
No time or cost saving as a result
At Forensic Access we see many cases nearly getting as far as trial on an SFR1. This is down to a lack of awareness of the system, or because the pertinent evidence is served on the defence at such a late stage.
Once the lack of an SFR2 has been highlighted by the solicitor raising a real issue, the trial must be put back. This is to allow the crown scientist to do the additional work and for the defence expert to review this subsequent work. This means there is no material time saving in the process.
Often the judge will not allow for the trial to be delayed. As such the work by the crown forensic expert and the defence expert witness is done urgently incurring an additional charge. So there isn’t usually a cost saving either.
Authorship by computer and not confirmed by a scientist
Some police forces use an automated system to generate their SFR1’s. For example, if a sample from a crime stain is loaded to the national DNA database and it matches against your clients profile. The force will be alerted to the match and a member of the admin team will produce an SFR1.
This SFR1 detailing the ‘match’ will be put to your client in interview without the DNA match being viewed or confirmed by a forensic DNA expert. This is why it is critical to ask the right questions of the officer in the case and also to call and speak directly to an expert who can advise you.
Examinations undertaken and reported on SFR1’s by an unaccredited and untrained member of police staff
We are increasingly seeing forensic firearms and ballistics investigations where an SFR1 is provided by a force armourer. Often, armourers are members of police staff who have generally not had specific training in the examination of firearms or firearms law. They have no experience of producing reports suitable for court or giving evidence during a trial. The procedures and processes they follow are not documented to ensure consistency and are not accredited by UKAS. As such the Forensic Science Regulator has stated that a case ought not to go to trial on their opinion. Instead the defence must challenge the SFR1 and then the exhibits must be sent to an accredited firearms expert for examination.
The organisations in England and Wales who have appropriately trained and accredited staff undertaking firearms examination work are:
- Eurofins Forensic Services
- Key Forensic Services
- Forensic Access Ltd
- Metropolitan Police Laboratory
- Merseyside Police
- South Wales Police
- West Midlands Police*
It may not be immediately obvious from your SFR1 that the opinion given is that of a force armourer as opposed to a forensic firearms expert. This can have a material effect on your case.
A recent case examined by our firearms experts had previously been examined by a force armourer and a classification given. The method he used to reach his conclusion was flawed and unaccredited. Despite this the police had charged the defendant based on his classification. After a savvy defence solicitor challenged the SFR1 and the weapon was sent to our lab for examination, the charges were dropped by the crown.
To read more about the issue of unaccredited classification of firearms in forensics, you can read our article 'Solicitors Beware' here.
There may be evidence useful to the defence that isn’t present in the SFR.
The crown use SFR’s to present information to the court that is pertinent to their case. This can mean that evidence that does not support their case is omitted.
In the SFR below you can clearly see the exhibit number of the swabs discussed is KMP/1/4. As a former scientist I know that this means there have been at least 3 other sub exhibits taken from the item, KMP/1/1, KMP/1/2 and KMP/1/3. Sub exhibits are used in forensic science to denote samples that have been taken from a larger exhibit. These can be tested immediately, at a later date or in some cases not at all. The sub exhibits can be in the form of swabs, hair and fibre tapings or sections of material stained with a body fluid of interest.
When a single gun is swabbed for DNA, swabs are usually taken from approximately 12-15 areas. Therefore, there may be other swabs that have been submitted for DNA profiling. This is often done in a staged approach causing the case to become fragmented.
It is imperative that you enquire as to what these other results show. We'll soon be publishing a checklist for some questions to ask the officer in the case to help you identify this.
SFR’s are a minefield and to the untrained eye they can be difficult to interpret. The scientists at Forensic Access are able to review your SFR and advise whether you should challenge it. They will also outline the results that your challenge may hope to achieve, free of charge.
*correct at time of publication.