Forensic delay is defeat of justice

Forensic evidence plays a critical role in the investigation of serious crimes, including sexual assault cases. Courts rely on it and it has led to major breakthroughs in a number of cases. However, delay in submitting forensic reports by laboratories or “incorrect expert opinion“ often hampers a case and can even lead to acquittal. Time and again, courts have pulled up the labs and probe agencies, including Delhi Police, for their “casual approach“ in collecting and depositing exhibits, but there has hardly been any improvement.

According to experts, there is a clear lack of coordination between forensic science laboratories (FSLs) and police. They say sometimes the evidence does not even reach the FSL on time, or doesn’t get tested on time. So, the proof of a crime is destroyed which subsequently leads to failure of justice.

A source said on an average, an FSL report takes at least six months to come out, but there are exceptions when reports have been released early because of “constant prodding“ by courts. According to legal experts, FSL reports are awaited in over 120 cases of sexual assault, which are being tried in six special fasttrack courts of Delhi. Additional public prosecutor A T Ansari, who is one of the designated prosecutors in these speci al courts, said: “The biggest impediment in the way of a speedy trial is the delay in filing of FSL reports. The whole system, including preparation of FSL reports, needs to be fast-tracked.“

Some important cases in which FSL reports are awaited include those related to the Muzaffarnagar riots in Uttar Pradesh, Sunanda Pushkar’s death, air hostess Geetika Sharma suicide case, etc. To address this problem, experts suggest filling up vacancies, setting up of more FSLs and fixing a deadline for the labs to submit their reports.

The situation is quite ho peless across the country despite every state and CBI having their own FSLs. In Delhi, the two state government-run FSLs–one in Rohini and the other in Chanakyapuri–are stretched beyond their means as they have to handle cases not only from Delhi but also from others states. Observers say that though too much work is one reason for poor efficiency of FSLs, the casual approach of authorities in dealing with sensitive cases makes matters worse.

Lawyer Rajiv Mohan, Delhi Police’s special public prosecutor in many cases, said on many occasions, a sample becomes useless by the time it is finally examined. “Samples are kept in unhygienic conditions. In most of the cases, we fail to get any expert opinion from FSLs because a sample becomes putrefied by the time it is evaluated. Cases are affec ted and the trial gets delayed,“ said Mohan who has represented the police in the Nirbhaya gang-rape case and 2008 serial blasts case, among others. He added that FSLs are overburdened and short of staff.

Overburdened FSLs Are Giving Reports Late, Running The Risk of Samples Getting Damaged

The delay in submitting FSL reports not only hampers the trial but also severely affects the rights of the accused, say legal experts. In serious cases, especially those of sexual assault, the accused is denied bail until FSL reports are received. Senior advocate Geeta Luthra, who is representing journalist Tarun Tejpal in the rape case filed against him by a woman colleague, echoed similar views. “Every case gets delayed because of late filing of FSL reports. People don’t get bail because of pending forensic opinion. This needs to change. A deadline has to be fixed, FSL reports need to be submitted within a stipulated time,“ she said.

There are also instances of labs giving wrong or incorrect opinion on forensic material.The 1999 Jessica Lal murder case is a classic example of an FSL giving an “incorrect“ report. The trial court had acquitted Lal’s killer, Manu Sharma, while relying on the ballistic report, which had wrongly said that two weapons were used in the offence.The trial court’s decision was set aside by the Delhi high court and then by the Supreme Court, which rejected the two weapon theory .forensic

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As these reports indicate, the Indian criminal justice system’s use of forensics suffers from both an inadequacy of facilities and a lack of capability in the police forces in gathering forensic evidence. Both of these need to be tackled urgently, because these inadequacies mean that people have to spend time in jail that they might otherwise not have needed to. It is quite absurd that the average waiting time for a forensic report should be as much as six months. Police forces must be equipped with specialists in collecting forensic evidence from the crime scene, so that evidence is not contaminated by blundering amateurs. At the same time, we need many more labs where the tests can be done. Both will cost money, but it will be money well spent because it serves the cause of speedy justice.

Source: TOI 07 Nov’2015