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Phil Goff - DNA Reports Released

Media Release
Hon Phil Goff

9 March 2000

DNA REPORTS RELEASED

The Minister of Justice, Hon Phil Goff, released two reports on DNA today.

The first report from Rt Hon Sir Thomas Eichelbaum and Professor Sir John Scott resulted from an incident in which the DNA profile of a victim was found in forensic samples from two unrelated homicides.

Sir Thomas and Sir John concluded that the most likely explanation for the result was accidental contamination during the early stages of processing at the ESR biology laboratory in Mt Albert.

The report made a number of recommendations aimed at minimising the prospect of contamination of DNA samples.

Sir Thomas and Sir John stressed that the events ought not to be regarded as throwing doubt on the usefulness of DNA analysis as an investigative tool.

The second report results from concerns about a case involving marginal DNA results. The results were originally reported as excluding the accused as the source of the DNA in question. Later testing using newer more sensitive technology, indicated that the accused was the likely source of the DNA.

The report considers the need for mandatory reporting protocols to establish a scientific threshold governing the interpretation of analysis results within the laboratory.

It concludes that it is not possible or appropriate to establish mandatory reporting guidelines but instead makes recommendations relating to disclosure of information in ESR forensic reports and the training of trial counsel in DNA methods and technology.

Mr Goff said, "DNA profiling is an extremely valuable forensic tool. Over the last decade, it has become increasingly important in criminal trials".

"DNA testing has the ability to eliminate a suspect from an inquiry, or to assist in establishing the suspect's involvement in a crime. DNA technology has been used successfully in many criminal investigations. Among the more notable examples, it led to the apprehension of the Auckland serial rapist."

"However, as these two incidents demonstrate, DNA analysis is not infallible. It is only one piece of evidence that any jury must consider, albeit an increasingly persuasive one.

"DNA technology is improving all the time so there is less scope for these kinds of incidents to occur. Nevertheless, I am concerned, as I am sure the public is as well, that these incidents are not repeated.

"I have discussed the content of these reports with the Minister in charge of the ESR,
Hon Pete Hodgson and with ESR itself. The ESR has responded positively to the two reports released today.

"Among ESR's responses have been to implement procedural improvements to packaging and sealing practices in dealing with samples to minimise the risk of contamination. It is also assessing changes needed to upgrade to a 'state of the art' DNA facility including changes to ventilation requirements.

"The ESR this year will further upgrade its DNA profiling techniques to a system which provides greater discrimination when comparing DNA profiles and improved sensitivity (called SGM+).

"I have also instructed the Justice Ministry to work with the Judicial Studies Institute, the Law Society and the ESR to improve training of judges and lawyers in the use and interpretation of DNA evidence.

"These measures will reduce further the likelihood of the problems addressed by the two reports re-occurring", Mr Goff concluded.

ENDS

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