The Scottish Parliament’s Justice 1 Committee has today published an extensive report on its inquiry into the Scottish Criminal Record Office and the Scottish Fingerprint Service.
The year-long inquiry is considered to be one of the most complex to be undertaken by any committee in the history of the Scottish Parliament.
Read the committee's report
As part of the Committee’s remit it considered the efficient running of the Scottish Criminal Record Office and Scottish Fingerprint Service, including the implications of the McKie case.
The committee also scrutinised the implementation of recommendations of Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary primary inspection report of 2000 in an effort to ensure that their service is efficient and effective.
Finally it scrutinised the ‘Action Plan for Excellence’ announced by the Minister for Justice for improvements in fingerprint and forensic services in Scotland.
Convener Pauline McNeill MSP said:
"It is fair to say that people were questioning the status of fingerprint evidence following the out-of-court settlement reached between the Executive and Shirley McKie this time last year.
"We felt that the actual process of holding an inquiry could assist in the process to restore public confidence. Everyone had the opportunity to have their say. This was important because over a number of years a lot of people have not been able to speak out on issues which have affected them directly.
"It was obvious that this type of inquiry would be uncomfortable for a number of the parties most closely involved due to the rawness of the subject matter. I would like to place on record my appreciation to all the witnesses who gave oral and written evidence to the committee.
"I am pleased to be in the position to say that it is an entirely unanimous report. It represents the view of all seven members of the committee.”
The committee highlighted four areas of the report which it believes will go some way to restoring public confidence in the status of fingerprint evidence. They are:
the injection of greater transparency;
the explanation of complex issues;
the analysis of key weaknesses; and
proposals for the way forward.
In looking at key weaknesses, the committee considered findings by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) made in the year 2000.
At the time, the Inspectorate said the Glasgow Bureau was “unable to provide a fully efficient and effective service with its present level of staffing, resources, processes and structures.”
In the report the committee grouped the problem areas investigated by the HMIC into five broad headings as follows:
Having apparently implemented a series of changes in these areas between 2000 and 2004, HMIC felt able to discharge all of the recommendations and suggestions that had been made four years previously.
The committee believes if this had truly been the case, it would have represented a remarkable turnaround in all aspects of the operation of the SCRO Fingerprint Bureau.
The Committee report states that, while some progress has been made since 2000, there are still areas of significant weakness.
In proposing a way forward for the Scottish Fingerprint Service, the committee acknowledged that the organisation still faces considerable challenges if it is to become a ‘recognised centre of excellence’ in its field.
While acknowledging that the Scottish Fingerprint Service has made significant progress in recent months towards the implementation of the Scottish Executive’s Action Plan for Excellence, the committee recommended that the plan be strengthened in four key areas:
As a central element of this, the Committee believes that there should be robust processes to deal with external challenges to fingerprint identification in order to give staff confidence in exercising their professional judgement in difficult cases.
In conclusion Convener Pauline McNeill MSP said:
"If such change is to be truly meaningful it is also vital that all management and staff of the Scottish Fingerprint Service accept that there are lessons to be learned from the McKie case.
"The Committee considers that management must take action to address fundamental weaknesses which have seriously impaired the efficiency and effectiveness of the Scottish Fingerprint Service as a whole.
"With this acceptance, the Committee believes that the Scottish Fingerprint Service can finally move on.”