New DNA system to be introduced
Northern Ireland is set to be the first part of the UK to introduce a new DNA profiling system that will effectively supersede the controversial low copy analysis technique.
The method will start to be used in criminal cases later this year, well in advance of the scheduled opening of the Forensic Service of Northern Ireland's new multi-million laboratory in Carrickfergus in 2015.
The system has been designed to be more sensitive than the SGM Plus system currently used in the UK, while also ensuring uniformity with other forensic agencies across Europe.
The low copy number (LCN) technique is used to produce a DNA profile when a genetic sample is too small for conventional SGM plus analysis. The new system is capable of deriving profiles from such minute specimens without the need for the additional enhancement required for LCN.
While low copy evidence was ultimately accepted in UK courts, it was suspended for a period more than five years ago in the wake of a damning judgment in the 2007 trial of south Armagh man Sean Hoey, who was acquitted of the 1998 Omagh bombing.
The new profiling system is set to be rolled out across the rest of the UK next year.
The equipment in Northern Ireland will be housed in a new temporary lab at the FSNI site until the new lab facilities open in 2015.
Stormont's Justice Minister David Ford, who visited the current FSNI labs in Carrickfergus, said the region was leading the way in terms of forensic services.
"The new lab which we will start building work on this autumn, which is a £20 million investment, will mean we literally are the most advanced region of the UK, on a par with anywhere else in Europe and ahead of most of the rest of the world, including the US.
"It's a key way of ensuring we get the best possible standards for the benefit of the people of Northern Ireland, whether they are innocent or guilty."