Accreditation of Forensic Service Providers: Motion.

This is to outline the position on the proposed European Council framework decision on accreditation of forensic service providers carrying out laboratory activities. This proposal will ensure, through legislation, that the results of accredited forensic laboratory activities, specifically DNA and fingerprints, of one member state will be recognised as being equivalent to the results of accredited forensic laboratory activities in another member state. This purpose is achieved by ensuring forensic service providers carrying out laboratory activities in all member states are accredited by a national accreditation body to comply with the same international standard, EN ISO/IEC 17025.

I am happy to say that Ireland is well placed to meet its obligations under the framework decision. The organisations that carry out forensic laboratory activities in Ireland are the Forensic Science Laboratory and the Garda Technical Bureau, and, under this proposal, these organisations will be required to achieve the accreditation under this standard. The Forensic Science Laboratory already holds this accreditation while the Garda Technical Bureau is actively pursuing it and is confident it will achieve this comfortably within the timeframe envisaged by the framework decision.

The proposed framework decision was presented at the police co-operation working party of the Council of the European Union as a joint initiative of Sweden and Spain in June 2009. The increased use of evidence obtained in one member state in the judicial processes of another highlights the need to ensure the quality of the data is sufficiently high. Information originating from forensic processes in one member state currently may be associated with a level of uncertainty in another member state regarding how an item has been handled, what methods have been used and how the results were being interpreted.

It is especially important to safeguard the quality of the information exchanged when it relates to such sensitive personal data as DNA profiles and fingerprints. It is important to clarify that this framework decision does not aim to harmonise national rules regarding the judicial assessment of forensic evidence. It will always remain the responsibility of each individual judicial authority to assess any evidence, forensic or not, in accordance with its own national law.

This proposal is to be adopted, by unanimity, under Title VI of the Treaty on European Union — Police and Judicial Co-operation in Criminal Matters. Acceptance of the decision constitutes the exercise of an option or discretion under Article 29 of Bunreacht na hÉireann. Accordingly, the prior approval of both Houses of the Oireachtas is necessary before Ireland can agree to the adoption of this framework decision. Once this decision is adopted, primary legislation will have to be enacted in Ireland to give effect to its provisions. The necessary legislative proposals will be drawn up by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform in consultation with the Attorney General's office.

I welcome this proposal, which I believe will lead to increased co-operation and interaction between duly accredited laboratories in member states. The accreditation of forensic science providers carrying out laboratory activities is an important step closer to a safer and more effective exchange of information within the European Union. I believe Ireland's support for this proposal will further demonstrate our commitment in the field of police and judicial co-operation in criminal matters among member states of the European Union.

On behalf of Fine Gael, I welcome this proposal and acknowledge its importance. I wish to make three points in respect of the approval by the Dáil. First, I acknowledge the work, expertise, and dedication of all staff and management in the Forensic Science Laboratory and the Garda Technical Bureau, both of which carry out an extremely important role and function in our national criminal justice system and do a fine job.

Second, in regard to our current legislative programme, I understand that the legislation on the matter of the setting up of our own national database is at an advanced stage. I again impress upon the Minister, who earlier in the year introduced a body of changes to the criminal justice system, including the Criminal Justice (Surveillance) Bill, the Criminal Justice (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill and anti-gangland measures, that the setting up of a national DNA database is as important and represents a fundamental piece of that jigsaw. I would ask that the legislation be given priority. In that regard, I note that this particular Council framework decision we are discussing will require legislation of its own. Would it be possible to incorporate the primary legislation to give effect to the provisions of the proposed Council decision into the DNA database Bill or will it be separate legislation? What type of framework or timeframe is the Minister considering?

There was a proposal at Government level to build a new forensic science laboratory at a site other than the current site. It would be important that we would provide the appropriate resources for our forensic science works and the Garda Technical Bureau. They are often working in conditions that require change and attention. Where stands this proposal? What does the Minister believe is the best way forward for the Forensic Science Laboratory, with particular reference to its current location?

I agree, and I want to be associated with the remarks made by Deputy Flanagan. I too want to raise the question of the proposed new forensic laboratory and to ask the Minister the current standing of that project.

I thank Deputies for their acknowledgement. The legislation is at an advanced stage and I hope to bring it before Cabinet in the coming weeks. We will seek to see if we can add the legislative requirements of this issue. It would be preferable, although I do not want to delay the passage of the legislation because it is important to proceed.

We have in the past 18 months taken on 50 extra staff in the forensic laboratory. We still intend to bring forward the new forensic laboratory and I hope to still have resources in the current Estimates process for that.