Forensics labs ‘not fit for purpose as agency is overloaded’

Forensic Science Ireland is not only struggling with labs that are not fit for purpose but is also facing a casework load that “significantly” outweighs its capacity.

As a result, it says there are backlogs in key areas, including testing seizures of hardcore illegal drugs.

In his first annual report since taking up the role five months ago, FSI’s new director general Chris Enright said: “It is clear that the current infrastructure is not fit-for-purpose for a modern advanced forensics organisation.”

It will have to make do with the existing facility until at least 2021, when a new forensic science laboratory is due to open.

In the 2017 annual report, Mr Enright said: “Today, casework demand significantly outweighs FSI capacity across disciplines and this gap will grow based on demand trajectories in 2018.”

The situation has not been helped by the significant 40% rise in cases (13,355) reported to it last year, compared to 2016 (9,417).

“The case load in 2017 included a number of high- profile cases which took considerable resources over several months because of their size and complexity,” the organisation said.

These include major drug seizures and investigations into gangland murders over the course of the year, often requiring extensive DNA work.

It said that focus did impact on the delivery of some “routine” case work.

One issue for FSI is around presumptive drug testing (PDT). That system sees a trained garda testing samples of suspected cannabis or cocaine classed as being Section 3 personal possession offences.

The scheme was supposed to reduce the number of those cases being submitted to FSI, allowing it to focus on the more serious dealing and cultivation cases. However, FSI said the scheme has been only “partly successful”.

The number of personal possession cases submitted to it remains stable at about 4,000 per year — of the 4,282 section cases submitted to it last year, 1,700 were cannabis cases which could have been dealt with by PDT.

Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan welcomed the impact of FSI’s national DNA database in aiding crime detection, saying over 21,000 person samples have been added to the database and approximately 913 investigative links between people and unsolved crimes have been uncovered, ranging from burglaries to sexual assaults and murder.

“In 2017 alone, 34 out of every 100 crime scene samples uploaded onto the database were linked to a person by FSI. This is a significant increase on the 2016 figure,” he said.


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