Cuts to forensic watchdog 'will cause miscarriages of justice'

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Dozens of miscarriages of justice could occur in the next few months because the body that regulates expert witnesses in court is being shut down by the Government, senior scientists warned yesterday.

The Council for the Registration of Forensic Practitioners is to be wound up at the end of this month after ministers cut its funding. The closure comes days after the release of Sean Hodgson, who spent 27 years in jail for a murder he did not commit.

The CRFP was set up by Jack Straw in 1999 after concerns that bogus scientists posing as expert witnesses in court were contributing to unsafe convictions. The Government is planning to replace the council with a new regulator, but this will not happen for months.

The popularity of TV dramas such as CSI has led to hundreds of graduates who want to practise forensic science but do not have the qualifications. Sue Black, professor of forensic anthropology at the University of Dundee, said: "The UK is at risk of being at the mercy of 'forensic cowboys' – those who profess their expertise but may have little or no means of backing up their alleged credentials. The CSI factor has left us with hordes of eager but underqualified graduates, keen to scale the perimeter fence of forensic science, and we are about to take away the border guards."