Lahore: The significance of forensic science evidences has tremendously grown with time in Pakistan owing to leading a national war on terror to eradicate terrorism, extremism and miscreants from its soil. The repeated occurrence of terrorist/suicide attacks across the country presents a challenge for forensic science experts to reach at a conclusion via evidences (limbs, fire arms particles and other identifying clues) collected from crime scenes in the shortest span of time. The secured collection and accurate forensic analysis of evidences can help investigators round up terrorist’s remnants and, identify hideouts and facilitators for effective prosecution in the courts of law.

The Punjab government established a state-of-the-art Punjab Forensic Science Laboratory (PFSL) with the estimated cost of around Rs. 2.5 billion over an area of 53 Kanals during 2009-2011. The prime objective of Laboratory was to support criminal investigations, manage evidence in criminal cases, and train other labs and analysts in forensic techniques for effective input in criminal justice system, says a document acquired by Truth Tracker (TT).

For the first time, thirteen forensic disciplines including Audio Visual Analysis, Computer Forensics, Crime Scene & Death Scene Investigation, DNA & Serology, Forensic Photography, Narcotics, Toxicology, Trace Chemistry, Polygraph, Fire Arms & Tool Marks, Latent Fingerprints, Pathology, and Questioned Documents were introduced at lab under one roof. The aim was “To receive physical evidence from law enforcement agencies, on criminal and civil cases, analyze and provide accurate results of forensic analysis in timely manner, and testify in courts of law on analytical findings for the people of Punjab,” PFSL website disclosed.

Initially the government hired the services of Dr Muhammad Ashraf Tahir, a DNA and Serology expert as a forensic consultant at the rate of $750 per day to supervise the project. Later, he was appointed Director General (DG) in 2011 and was offered lump-sum package of Rs.1.2 million per month. The services of his real brother, a chemical examiner Dr. Muhammad Sarwar were also sought to run the lab on modern techniques and parameters. Another relative of Tahir, Dr Muhammad Amjad was appointed as Additional Director General to support the high ups in official work and input. The selection of the three top posts at the PFSL relates it to a dynasty, another document with TT reveals.

In all, the government recruited about 500 employees including 317 officers (directors, forensic scientists) to make the laboratory functional to support criminal justice system with accurate, reliable and, authentic forensic reports. The government allocated Rs.870.6 million during current financial year (2016-17) to meet the operating expenditures of lab, budget document says.

However, now reports are surfacing that fake and bogus reports in various disciplines are being allegedly provided by PFSL to affect the merit of the criminal cases. It is also evident that sub-standard and fake samples of confiscated narcotics are being submitted by police to the lab, which are accepted for re-examination, ultimately helping the drug pushers and paddlers, inquiry report with TT says. Even a committee headed by Additional Inspector General of Police sorted out issuance of four fake and bogus reports in various high profiles criminal cases. Whereas, the committee further unearthed around 65 cases of submission of sub-standard and fake narcotics seized for re-examination in the lab by police. Although action has been initiated against the involved officials and private persons but it is an alarming situation that fake and bogus reports are being issued that are hindering the criminal justice system, the report says.

Punjab Forensic Science agency management was required to maintain a quality management system to meet the requirements of international standard for laboratories, ISO 17025:2005, ASCLD-LAB International (American Society for Crime Laboratory Directors’ Laboratory Accreditation Board) to achieve high level of customer satisfaction.

A forensic official requesting anonymity disclosed that while the PFSL boasts to follow internationally accepted standards of testing and reporting, but in actual fact, a majority of its reports are based on presumptive testing which is only a screening technique. The number of reports with confirmed results is alarmingly low. Due to low level of awareness at local level among the law enforcement, laboratory misrepresents the presumptive reports as final judgment, and in this way it is befooling the criminal justice system rather than helping it, the official iterated. The methods used for examination of physical evidence at PFSL are replete with shortcuts and omissions. This goes unchecked because no third party performance check is in place, he maintained.

The laboratory has problems in timely disposal of cases. According to a data, as many as 6400 cases of all thirteen disciplines were pending with 739 of firearms and tool marks, 5540 of DNA and serology, 70 of narcotics and 50 of trace chemistry. The lab has closed about 1600 cases over non traceability and alleged damage of evidences at its part, a document with TT reveals.

Authorities must look into the matter to increase the cost benefit ratio of PFSL. On part of police, further resources must be deployed towards a prompt response and to secure the crime scene professionally. Capacity building and exhaustive training of police/investigators should be done at an acceptable level. Investigation police should be provided with modern evidence handling tools and relevant trainings to avoid spoiling of accurate and truthful physical evidence from crime scene. Supervising investigators must ensure tat appropriate evidence material is sent for examination. This will minimize unnecessary expense of time and resources.

On part of PFSL, government must make regulations concerning the qualifications and competency of forensic scientists, and notify minimum standards which should govern methods and facilities used by forensic examination and reporting. Regular third party audits of forensic case work must be in place to root out work aversion by forensic scientists.

Defense attorneys and judicial officers should also familiarize themselves with the standards of forensic reports. Cross-examination of forensic experts and review of all documentation will eventually minimize the flaws in expert testimony, which are currently going un-noticed.

The government should put in place a strict monitoring and vigilance system to curb all sort of misdeeds and to punish the accused involve in issuance of fake and bogus reports. Otherwise, the public will lose confidence over another public institution and criminal justice system will definitely collapse and ultimately it will encourage crimes in society.  If there is a security system, it must be accurate and foolproof to ensure that all doors of forgery have been shut, the official says.

Former IG Punjab Police Tariq Saleem Dogar said the government should replicate forensic lab set up at divisional level as in some cases of far flung areas collection of evidences become an incredible task owing to time factor and long distances. He stressed that the government should impart dedicated training to police officials about effective collection of evidence and promote public awareness for preservation of evidence at crime scenes. “Presently the forensic science laboratory lacks a strong liaison with the police department, creating a hurdle to reach at the truth in interrogation and criminal justice system,” said Dogar adding, “There is need for capacity building of police investigators as well as judicial officers to use forensic evidence for the prosecution of criminals in high profile cases.”

Forensic sciences play vital role in criminal justice system by incorporating scientific evidence to ascertain the criminal liability. Evidence can come from varied sources, as it can be genetic material or trace chemicals, dental history or fingerprints, says Dr Humayoun Temoor Baig, Pakistan’s only Forensic Odontologist. Evidence can serve many roles in an investigation, such as to trace an illicit substance, identify remains or reconstruct a crime. In Pakistan, Punjab Forensic Science Agency brought a modern Forensic lab concept but due to ill interest in capacity-building and corrupt intention by its founders it is not serving the purpose fully, he adds.

Baig accused PFSL authorities and said that the Forensic science agency is basically a laboratory establishment but it behaves like Pentagon in terms of security. He pointed out that the lab Director General carries a dual nationality, which is a violation of Government rules. Baig also accused the Director of PFSL for not welcoming other experts to join fearing a Pandora box of complaints. He also criticised that most of PFSL employees are not qualified for the job and many were taken abroad for unaccredited trainings, which result in un-accredited results in many cases. “There is no way you can counter check the results declared by PFSL which is a clear question mark on the judicial system of Pakistan as on the other hand for the Medicolegal cases there is a three tier structure in place where the observations of the Doctors can be checked at different levels by senior forensic experts,” Baig concluded.

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