The Minister for Justice, Heather Humphreys TD, yesterday visited the Office of the State Pathologist to publish their Annual Report for 2020 which provides a detailed account of Office’s operations over the last year.
The core work conducted by the Office is providing independent expert advice on matters relating to forensic pathology and performing post mortem examinations in cases of criminal, suspicious or unusual deaths. In addition to these duties, the Office performs post mortem examinations in non-suspicious deaths directed by the Dublin district Coroner, on a rotational basis, analyses skeletonised remains, and deals with referred cases from inside and outside of Ireland.
State Pathologists are often required to attend and give evidence in coronial, criminal or civil courts. The OSP provides expert forensic advice to various groups and also plays an important educational role by providing teaching to government bodies, An Garda Síochána, the Military Police and to medical schools in higher education institutions.
Speaking from the Office in Whitehall, Minister Humphreys spoke about the vital work of the State Pathologist,
“The Covid-19 pandemic played a prominent role in all of our lives in 2020 and the unique position of the Office of the State Pathologist as liaison between the Coroners, An Garda Síochána, the Faculty of Pathology (Royal College of Physicians Ireland, RCPI) and mortuaries around the country meant that it played a pivotal role in the development of guidelines and increasing the recognition of autopsy as a tool for progressing medical knowledge at a national level.
“The Annual report for 2020 very clearly sets out the complex work undertaken by the forensic pathologists, and the specific challenges presented by the pandemic, along with those facing the office in the years ahead”.
The Minister also commented on the work that has been done to address staffing issues in the Office,
“I would like to extend my congratulations to Dr. Mulligan on her permanent appointment to the role of Chief State Pathologist, her significant experience in this area is of huge value in this role and I wish her well in her ongoing leadership of the Office.
“I am also very pleased that there has been significant progress in filling some key vacancies within the Office, and I want to extend a warm welcome to the two new State Pathologists who have recently joined the team. Their arrival represents a major strengthening of the Office’s ability to carry out its functions as a vital agency under the aegis of the Department of Justice.
A copy of the report is available on the Department of Justice website here: Office of the State Pathologist Annual Report 2020
Notes for Editors
Some of the key work undertaken by the Office in 2020 includes:
- 345 cases were dealt with by the OSP in 2020 (this figure was 335 in 2019 and 286 in 2018). The majority of these were State forensic cases (188) comprising 54% of the total caseload.
- Attendance at scene of death was recorded in 29 of 188 State forensic cases (15%) in 2020.
- 109 adult non-suspicious post mortem examinations were carried out at the direction of the Dublin District Coroner.
- There were 39 cases of skeletonised remains, 28 of which were documented as animal bones. This is an increase on 2019’s numbers and likely due both to increased outdoor activity by the public during 2020 and in part to new service level agreements with independent forensic anthropologists.
- 9 cases were referred to the Office for expert opinion.
- Cases continue to have a wide geographic distribution across Ireland. The numbers of post mortem evaluations (PME) carried out in each province during 2020 were as follows: 113 (60%) in Leinster, 55 (29%) in Munster, 11 (6%) in Connaught and 9 (5%) in Ulster.
- Approximately 11.5 working days were spent by pathologists attending out of office commitments. These commitments included, for example, giving evidence at inquests and in the Criminal Courts of Justice.
- In 2020 pathologists spent approximately 155.5 hours in total providing teaching services to academic institutions, An Garda Síochána, the Military Police (45.4 hours) and facilitating elective attachments for undergraduate and post graduate medical students (110 hours).