THE "best work" done by state pathologists is establishing the true cause of death in complex cases that were once thought to be suspicious, Professor Marie Cassidy has said.
Finding the cause of death in murders and killings is "easy peasy" by comparison, the State Pathologist told the annual National Prosecutor's Conference.
Prof Cassidy said her office received more than 200 suspicious death cases each year, but the homocide rate remained stable.
She told the conference – hosted by DPP Claire Loftus on Saturday – that investigating murders is a major part of the role of state pathologists, but said the most important function was establishing the cause of death in cases that were not unlawful killings.
"When it comes to the murder and the homicide cases, these are the easy peasy ones," she said.
"These are the ones where you don't really need somebody like me, you just need somebody who can count holes in bodies, stab wounds, gunshot wounds. If the brains are splattered up the walls, nobody is going to quibble that this death was due to a head injury."
Prof Cassidy revealed the cases that caused the "most angst" were the ones where the injuries and the cause of the injuries were relatively minor and yet the person has died.
"It is the interaction between trauma, the presence of natural disease and of anything else like drugs and alcohol," she said.
She said it was these cases where there was a lot of deliberation and where the opinion of pathologists was questioned in court.
Prof Cassidy said medical doctors tended not to acknowledge their mistakes as required by the Hippocratic and other oaths.
"No, we bury our mistakes," she said.
Meanwhile, Dr Maureen Smyth of the Forensic Science Laboratory outlined how the new DNA database would operate in Ireland and help track missing persons.
The DNA database legislation, published last September, received its second reading in the Dail last week.
Dr Smyth revealed that 200 crime stains have already been uploaded, with 15 sets linked to crimes.
"It is an indication that there are repeat offenders, which is no surprise to anybody," said Dr Smyth, who outlined a series of protections afforded to people whose profiles are uploaded and retained on the database.
Dr Smyth said it was "really important to stress" that there are lots of people who are screened who will never go on the database.
Samples, which contain all genetic information, must be destroyed within six months said Dr Smyth.
Earlier, Ms Loftus appealed to groups working with victims of sex abuse to enter into a dialogue with her office about the disclosure of third-party documents, such as counselling notes, that may be used in criminal trials.
Ms Loftus also said there would be resource implications for her office with the introduction of the new Court of Appeal and new EU laws that will grant victims the right to receive reasons when a prosecution does not proceed.