Fingerprint Service in Scotland leading the way in the UK

Published

UKAS Accreditation for Fingerprint Services

PUBLISHED 14 DECEMBER 2016

SPA Forensic Services has become the first large scale forensic provider in the UK to receive accreditation from the United Kingdom Accreditation Service (UKAS) for its fingerprint comparison activities.  The team have been awarded ISO/IEC 17025 accreditation which places the service to the same ISO standard as the other science-based elements of Forensic Services. 

UKAS is the sole national accreditation body in the United Kingdom to assess the competence of organisations that provide certification, testing, inspections and calibration services.  It evaluates these bodies and accredits them where they are found to meet the internationally specified standard.  Accreditation underpins the quality of results by ensuring their traceability, comparability, validity and commutability.

Five years on from the publication of the findings of the Fingerprint Inquiry led by Sir Anthony Campbell, accreditation demonstrates that the Fingerprint Service delivered by SPA Forensic Services to the Criminal Justice System in Scotland has been externally assessed against the stringent requirements of the international laboratory standard ISO 17025 and has been deemed competent, robust, consistent and fit for purpose in carrying out and reporting fingerprint examinations which are impartial, objective and fit for purpose. 

This achievement represents a key milestone in the journey of fingerprint capability in Scotland.  The journey doesn’t end here however as accreditation sees fingerprint examination in Scotland continue to move forward and develop as part of the UKAS cycle of on-going re-assessment and re-accreditation, ensuring continued improvement and external scrutiny of service provision in this area.

Sir Anthony Campbell, Chairman of The Fingerprint Inquiry visited SPA Forensic Services earlier this year to see for himself just how far the fingerprint service had developed and progressed in the years taken to achieve accreditation to this international laboratory standard. 

Sir Anthony said: “I was most impressed by the dynamism of those that I met during my visit. One cannot help but feel the good atmosphere within Fingerprint Services. It was a massive undertaking to embark on the process of UKAS accreditation across such a broad area of fingerprint processing and those working in the service in Scotland have good reason to be proud of such an achievement.” 

Tom Nelson, Director of SPA Forensic Services, said: 

“This is an important development for us, as achieving accreditation ensures that everyone can have confidence in the fingerprint provision in Scotland.  Both the achievement and the on-going maintenance of accreditation for the fingerprint discipline represents the latest in a series of investments in Forensic Services.”

“The examination of Fingerprints is essentially a cognitive process which relies on the training, skills and experience of the fingerprint examiner.  Fingerprints have been used as a means of identification for over 100 years as an important tool in serving the interests of Criminal Justice.

“Fingerprint examination in Scotland has previously been subject to significant debate around accuracy, capability and reliability, culminating most notably in the establishment of The Fingerprint Inquiry following the Shirley McKie case.  We have come a long way since then and we have worked closely with groups such as the Forensic Regulators Fingerprint Specialist Quality Standards Group to embrace this opportunity to enhance our fingerprint service and improve how we go about our business.

Accreditation for the SPA Forensic Services fingerprint service is also a significant step in a programme of modernisation of SPA Forensic Services which began in 2010 and is aimed at providing a clear long-term strategic plan for the delivery of all forensic services across Scotland.

Tom added: “The Forensic Services modernisation programme has been a long and comprehensive programme which started well before the reform of policing in Scotland and has evolved alongside Police Scotland in recent years. We have invested in new state-of-the-art labs in Dundee and the Scottish Crime Campus in Gartcosh embracing the use of new technology to ensure we are at the forefront of forensic science capability.  We provide a unique ‘crime scene to court’ forensic science model which delivers consistent processing at all stages of the justice system.

“We have been working closely with UKAS for a number of years and are delighted to have reached the point where our fingerprint services are now accredited by this internationally-recognised body. 

The attainment of UKAS accreditation has been a comprehensive, complex process and the support and hard work of the Fingerprint staff in adopting these standard processes has been a major factor in achieving this success.  SPA Forensic Services Fingerprint service is now supporting other fingerprint organisations considering this accreditation route and we are delighted to support others in their own drive to achieve UKAS accreditation.”

Paul Stennett, CEO of UKAS said:  “UKAS accreditation plays an important role in supporting the criminal justice system through the accreditation of forensic science services, from scene of crime investigation through to testing laboratories.  Congratulations to the SPA on achieving UKAS accreditation for fingerprint comparison.    This is a considerable accomplishment as it verifies that SPA has been able to demonstrate the requisite competence and that it operates in accordance with the requirements of the internationally recognised ISO/IEC 17025 laboratory testing standard. This is of particular importance in forensics, as the criminal justice system needs to have confidence in the reliability and quality of information which can be used to make critical decisions.”