Since its adoption by FCN in 2020, SFR has played an important part in the criminal justice process, and we want to give you a brief update on progress and changes to the various documents and guidance that make up SFR.
SFR National Guidance Version 3.0
In February 2022, the latest version of the SFR National Guidance was approved and published. Version 3.0 incorporates the previously published Accreditation Briefing Note (v3.0), which aids compliance with the Accreditation Declaration requirements of the Forensic Science Regulators Codes of Practice and Conduct (the Codes) (v7). This has been further updated to reflect changes following the release of the UKAS document GEN6, which replaces UKAS document LAB1.
Due to the increasing complexity of declarations of accreditation and compliance to the Codes, flowcharts have been created to assist practitioners in selecting the correct option for their circumstances.
We are also pleased to have had the support of some of our newer Expert Network Leads, Adam Booker at Socotec, for drugs and Oliver Thorne at Eurofins, for Questioned Documents, in expanding discipline specific sections of the guidance.
In addition, we have received confirmation from the CPS that our current forms and procedures remain compliant with the latest guidelines on disclosure.
There is also a new edition of the SFR-FAQs (v2.0), and Gemma Escott of Eurofins has been working with her Expert Network Group to agree changes to the Supplementary Technical Note for Biology Casework; v2.0 is now live on the FCN website.
Perhaps our greatest achievement in this reporting period has been the creation of a new Supplementary Technical Note for Road Traffic-Toxicology SFR and ‘Gatekeeper Guidance’ for Road Traffic-Toxicology SFR2 Requests.
For the last two years, the FCN has been collating figures to show the conversion rate from SFR1 to SFR2, in response to concerns from our community. Whilst the number of SFR2 requests remains below 5% across all providers and Forces, we have been working with the Expert Network Group for Toxicology, led by Emma Pagdin of Eurofins, to develop a technical note to accompany MG22B (SFR1) reports, which will enable all parties to fully understand the significance of the findings and assist with efficient case management. In addition, we have been building on the great work of Dean Ames and his team in the Metropolitan Police Service to develop a set of national guidelines to facilitate case management of Section 5A road traffic cases where the initial analytical findings presented on the MG22B (SFR1) form are not accepted by the defence. The FCN’s ‘Gatekeeper Guidance’ document contains useful information to assist investigating officers, case builders, CPS, defence, forensic services and FSPs in how to deal with SFR stage 2 and data-pack requests.
“In the Metropolitan Police, we have seen demand for Road Traffic Toxicology SFR2 and data pack requests rising since 2020, particularly as the courts began to open up after lockdown. I was authorising further work for our supplier almost daily, with significant consequences for them in terms of the abstraction and their capacity to deliver toxicology services as a whole. I began to work with an experienced London CPS prosecutor and our contracted supplier of RTA Toxicology services to improve communication and response. I established which issues raised by defence required an SFR2 response and data pack and which required an SFR2 response only. By minimising the requests to just an SFR2 where appropriate rather than producing a data pack as standard, this released an additional 2 to 3 hours work each time for the supplier. This led to a new training and awareness programme for London CPS personnel and initiated the preparation of generic statements that CPS could issue, when the SFR1 was not accepted by the defence. Implementation is currently being planned with London CPS.
The problem was clearly not restricted to the Metropolitan Police / Eurofins partnership and so impacts on the available RTA capacity in the market nationally. I welcome the work of the FCN in building on the initiative of the Metropolitan Police, by creating the SFR1 technical note and the associated gatekeeper guidance, for the benefit of all Forces and all Suppliers nationally.”
Both the ‘Supplementary Technical Note for Road Traffic-Toxicology SFR’ and the ‘Gatekeeper Guidance’ for Road Traffic-Toxicology SFR2 Requests’ are now live, available for use with immediate effect, and can be found here.
Use of SFR for Digital Forensics
On behalf of the community, the FCN continue to seek clarification with regards to the CPS approved scope of digital reporting and for the avoidance of doubt, to request updates to the CPS website. In conjunction with our Expert Network Lead for Digital SFR, Eddie Fisher of the Metropolitan Police Service, we held a very productive face to face workshop for digital practitioners, on the 29th March 2022. Some of the key highlights are as follows:
- There is disparity in the adoption of SFR for reporting digital findings amongst policing practitioners
- Whilst some forces have made good progress in developing SFR to report aspects of digital analysis, others are reluctant, largely due to a lack of knowledge of the process and the benefits that could be realised
- Generally speaking, the scope of reporting is limited, however the group demonstrated a desire to extend use of SFR in a controlled and consistent way, whilst understanding the risks
- There is a lack of consistency in the way the SFR forms (at both Stage 1 and stage 2) are being utilised and a requirement for national consistency to aid understanding for end users
- Due to the technical complexity of digital investigations and pace of change, the community recognised the need to work together to ensure a clear and compliant route for declaring the status of their accreditation
- It was acknowledged that there is a requirement for policing to work locally with CPS and criminal justice stakeholders to ensure appropriate awareness, engagement, and buy in as the use of SFR is extended.
Further workshops are currently being planned with policing practitioners to consider digital SFR reporting in more detail, and how working together we can agree a national approach to adoption.
We have also started our engagement with the external digital marketplace to understand the landscape better and ensure that both policing and providers and able to move forward together.
- We have provided assurances that the template SFR forms (for all approved disciplines), will only be re-issued when absolutely necessary. The new requirements laid out in GEN6 mean it is now necessary to declare accreditation status on all reports, which includes the MG22A form, hence this template will be re-issued shortly to take account of this.
- On behalf of the community, the FCN continues to liaise with the FSR and UKAS around reporting requirements to ensure the SFR guidance remains compliant. The FCN also provides a touch point with the FSR and UKAS to raise any issues in complying with Quality Standards, which includes reporting requirements relating to ISO standards and the Codes.
- On behalf of the community, the FCN are facilitating a review of the EDIT guidance. We are working with CPS to understand the consequences of utilising SFR for EDIT, and we expect to formally approve use of SFR for EDIT at the next Board meeting.
The National SFR Board continues to hold virtual meetings on a quarterly basis. This includes representation from all policing regions, the main private forensic providers, CPS, HMCTS, the Judiciary, the Home Office and the Legal Aid Agency. The Board continues to consider benefits capture and evolution of the SFR process into new disciplines, in addition to reporting and mitigating risks and issues.
If you are actively involved in the SFR process and do not feel you have a voice on the Board, contact us and we’ll put you in touch with the appropriate representative.
Find all the SFR documents here - Streamlined Forensic Reporting (SFR) | Forensic Capability Network (fcn.police.uk)