Forensics for justice
BY S H A R J l L K H A R A L | 9/2/2015

A VISIT to Cellmark Forensic Services near Oxford last week showed me the extent of the United Kingdom`s progress in the application of forensics to criminal justice.

The facility, established little over 25 years ago, is UK`s largest forensic service centre.

Their scientists analyse over 4,500 DNA samples per month, including 1,500 plus from scenes of serious offences, and their turnaround time is less than four days.

The facility provides expeditious, neutral and accredited forensic services to all leading police forces, both national and international, to the British military, the courts, as well as private individuals in the UK. My point here is to highlight the extent to which the country applies science to criminal justice.

All forensic science centres in the UK seek recourse to national databases for solving crime, and in most cases, contribute to them.

Foremost among them is the National DNA Database which hosts a staggering 5.7 million arrestee profiles and 460,000 crime scene DNA profiles.

Then there is the National Ballistics Intelligence Service which works in close partnership with several leading police forces, the Home Office, the National Crime Agency, and the UK border authorities. This database and its auxiliary services are responsible for anything to do with firearms criminality in the UK. Furthermore, this organisation is tasked with curbing gun crime in the UK through intelligence sharing as well as comprehensive strategy formulation.

Serious miscarriages of justice in the country`s common law-led adversarial trial by jury system over the years have encouraged significant investment in technology, manpower, resources and expertise to ensure near flawless application of science to criminal justice. Top-of-the-line academics and lawyers have contributed to this discourse, leading many to discard misperceptions that only the prosecution can use forensics to its advantage in the adversarial system. The defence has many a time been able to successfully challenge the scientific evidence produced by the prosecution.

In Pakistan, we have seen some development in this area. However, while some new legislation in the shape of the latest Cyber Crime Bill 2015 is in the offing, many question why much-needed amendments in the country`s criminal laws have not been made.

Present-day substantive laws in the shape of the Qanun-i-Shahadat Order 1984 (particularly sections 59 and 164) as well as the Pakistan Penal Code do not take into account the modern facets of scientific evidence which play a crucial role in police investigations.

Similarly, it goes without saying, for substantive laws to make an impact, concomitantly rules and procedures also need to be amended. The Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) and the Police Rules 1934 are silent about many new techniques that are a hallmark of developed criminal justice systems.

The CrPC does not clearly state the way scientific evidence should be collected, preserved, and sent to forensic laboratories for examination. It does not even contain any provision for identification parades, let alone clauses that support identification through DNA analysis and fingerprints. Similarly, the relevant sections of Chapter 25 of the Police Rules 1934 must be reviewed to incorporate modern forensic techniques to be adopted by the police while carrying out investigations.

Barring the state-of-the-art Punjab Forensic Science Agency in Lahore, and to some extent the Forensic Division of the Sindh police, all other crime laboratories in Pakistan, be they privately managed or managed by the police, lack equipment, expertise and resources, and most of them do not have the required accreditation.

The existing police-managed facility in Karachi caters to the forensic needs of the entire Sindh police; it is thus inadequate for meeting the challenges posed by criminality and terrorism in the mega city. Balochistan does not have a single facility while KP has only recently seen the upgradation of its forensic laboratory through a UNDP programme.

Analysis by these facilities cannot stand the test of a trial, in the literal sense.

Furthermore, in a majority of cases, the evidence brought in for analysis by the police is contaminated due to non-professional collection techniques, only to face further contamination at some of these laboratories because required quality control measures are missing. There is thus a dire need to invest in this sector, be it commercial or state-run.

For forensic science to come to the aid of law-enforcement agencies, the required paraphernalia is direly needed. The law, labs, and legal fraternity all need to evolve and adapt to the new realities. And as gatekeepers to the justice system, the police and other federal agencies that investigate crimes must develop their capacities along forensic lines.

This is the way to ensure justice, fairness, and the right of the citizens to a fair trial. •
The writer is a police officer

Published in Dawn