About Forensic Science Northern Ireland

An overview of Forensic Science Northern Ireland including its mission, vision, location, management team and the Northern Ireland DNA database.

Mission and vision

Forensic Science Northern Ireland (FSNI) is an Agency within the Department of Justice, responsible for the provision of impartial scientific advice and support, to enhance the Criminal Justice System. 

FSNI currently employs approximately 200 staff, all civil servants, of whom roughly 65 per cent are scientists directly involved with casework.

The Agency's prime role is to provide objective, independent scientific advice to support the Courts and our services are also available to those representing both defence and prosecution interests in criminal cases.

Our Mission: Scientific Expertise delivered in partnership supporting justice for all

Our Vision: To be a World-leading provider of integrated forensic science services

Location

FSNI has, in a single location, one of the widest ranges of accredited Forensic Science expertise in Europe.

Agency status

Originally opened in 1956 as 'The Department of Industrial and Forensic Science' and later renamed 'The Northern Ireland Forensic Science Laboratory' the organisation became an Executive Agency of the Northern Ireland Office on 1 September 1995. The name was changed from 'The Forensic Science Agency of Northern Ireland' to 'Forensic Science Northern Ireland' in April 2000.

On the 12 April 2010, as a result of the Devolution of Policing and Justice in Northern Ireland, Forensic Science Northern Ireland became an agency within the Department of Justice.

Customers

FSNI's principal paying customer is the Police Service of Northern Ireland for whom FSNI provides a comprehensive, integrated service of forensic advice and scientific expertise. Approximately 90% of the work submitted to the Agency originates from the PSNI and the mix therefore reflects trends in local crime, especially violence and other serious offences, as well as the investigative priorities of the police.

Support is also given to the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland, the State Pathologist, the HRMC and other investigative authorities.

Services are also available to a variety of customers representing both defence and prosecution interests in criminal cases.

For more information on customers of FSNI and the services offered, visit the following page:

Work

FSNI over recent years has seen a substantial growth in submissions relating to violent crime/offences against the person and drugs-related crime. The residual terrorist threat remains significant and highlights the importance of a broad integrated range of professional forensic science expertise and capacity being available locally. Whilst DNA continues to be a cornerstone of forensic science, it is in complex high priority cases that the interconnectivity of the various forensic techniques and specialisms comes to the fore. As an example the examination of a single exhibit such as a mobile phone may need carefully planned sequencing of the recovery of DNA, fingerprints, fibres and data extraction.

The Agency receives roughly 20,000 exhibits per year (not including DNA swabs and blood samples) and derives a further 80,000 sub-exhibits from them. Storage conditions for exhibits and sub-exhibits depend on their nature and may be at ambient, refrigerated or deep freeze temperatures as appropriate. Exhibits also range in size from vehicles, doors and other large objects, to extremely small items. Exhibits may also, due to their nature, present health & safety challenges, e.g. guns, knives, drugs, biological material and toxic, flammable or explosive substances. Handling, packaging integrity and tracking of the storage and movement of exhibits is therefore of vital importance.

Northern Ireland DNA database

FSNI acts as the custodian of the Northern Ireland DNA database and regularly uploads NI DNA profiles onto the UK's National DNA Database. The standalone nature of the NI database allows for faster local searching as well as compatibility with both UK and Republic of Ireland data. This facilitates the comparison of DNA profiles and identification of individuals possibly associated with crime scenes anywhere within the UK and, where their legislation allows, in the Republic of Ireland. This latter point is important in the growing area of cross-border crime and will become even more important now that the Republic is taking steps to introduce its own DNA database.

Back to top