Major crimes could go unsolved unless the government does more to support forensic science, MPs have warned.
The Science and Technology Committee has published the results of a follow-up inquiry into the closure of the Forensic Science Service (FSS).
Private firms and in-house police labs now fill the gap left by the FSS.
The report paints a picture of a chaotic new landscape for forensic provision and says private firms need help to survive in an unstable market.
It says that unless the government formulates a coherent strategy for forensic science in England and Wales, the criminal justice system could be jeopardised.
Labour MP Andrew Miller, who chaired the committee’s inquiry, said: “Forensic science provides vital evidence to the criminal justice system and if the government wants to continue being able to put the most serious criminals behind bars it has a duty to protect its health.
The government announced its decision to close the FSS in December 2010, with the intention that the private sector would expand to fill the gap.
Estimates vary for the size of the forensics market, ranging from about £90m to £65m per annum. But few doubt the market is shrinking, placing private providers under pressure.
Private firms complain that the practice by police forces of bringing forensic work in-house [insourcing] is a major contributor to this decline. That is strongly denied by the government, along with senior police officers.
The committee concluded that it was impossible to know what part insourcing played in this without access to details of police expenditure – which it tried to obtain without success. As a result, it recommends that a working group is established to review the accounting practices of police forces.