It is unfortunate that forensic science – one of the foremost pillars of the criminal justice system – has been neglected by planners and successive governments for so long, speakers, at the National Forensic Conference held to mark the annual Forensics Day, said on Saturday.
The speakers included prominent medical forensic specialists from several medical colleges all over the country and the office of the Punjab Medico Legal Surgeon. The seminar was organised by the Department of Forensic Medicine & Toxicology, the Punjab Medical College (PMC) and the Pakistan Society of Forensic Medicines.
Speakers from the PMC spoke about the low ratio of teachers to students in the discipline of forensic medicine. They said it did not meet the standards of medical professional codes.
“We happen to be in a state of national emergency where law enforcement agencies have been tasked with hunting down criminals and terrorists…But the aspect of the criminal justice system which deals with the knowledge of tracing culprits through scientific means is largely ignored,” one of the speakers said.
He stressed the need to emphasise the importance of forensic evidence collection and processing and to raise awareness about it.
The speakers observed that most students were reluctant to join the Forensic Medicine Department because it did not offer much in terms of building a lucrative career. It also did not provide an option for private practice.
They spoke about how most doctors in the Forensic Medicines Department often complained about facing difficulty in getting their testimonies recorded in criminal cases. “This needs to be a pre-requisite, especially in cases involving murder, assault and rape.” A doctor who conducts post-mortem examinations or issues medico-legal certificates has to appear in court to record testimony several times for a case, he or she is then expected to teach and do their duties at the hospital.
One of the speakers said a medical forensic specialist closes all doors to private practice when opting for the profession. “Apart from restricting ourselves financially, we also place ourselves and our families in danger…especially when working on cases involving terrorism.”
The speaker said there have been cases in which medical forensic specialists have been pressured by terrorists to retract statements or falsify findings. “Yet we are not afforded state protection or help from any intelligence agencies.”
Prof Safadar Hussain, a consultant at the National University of Science and Technology, said, “Forensic medicine has a crucial role to play in gathering evidence related to the biological aspects of a crime. Keeping in view modern trends in crime and violence across the country, we tend to still depend on a decades-old criminal investigation system. Culprits can be easily traced using advanced and new techniques in the field of forensic medicine and toxicology,”
He said it wasn’t that there weren’t any qualified professionals in the field. “However, we have seen more and more brilliant minds lose interest in forensic medicine because of the lack of incentives in their field.” He said state patronage and financial incentives for those affiliated with the discipline that forensic medicine could make it an appealing career choice.
Dr Khurram Sohail, secretary general of the Pakistan Society of Forensic Medicine, said if the government wanted the department to perform in an orderly fashion, it needed to develop human resource in the field. “Most doctors don’t consider forensic medicine a viable career choice.”
He said it was considered a dead-end job. “Not only do the specialists deal primarily with the dead but they also get no financial incentives…instead, we have the added inconvenience of having to explain the evidence in court.”
Sohail said doctors in the field of forensic medicine had added responsibilities, put their lives on the line, and had to deal with sensitive work. “Our ‘patients’ are already dead.” In such conditions, the only way to attract more people to the service and to make the subject attractive is it encourage doctors specialising in forensic medicine and to give them something to look forward to, he said.
Speaking at the inaugural session, Punjab Medical College Principal Sardar Muhammad Fareed Al-Zafar, the chief guest, welcomed the delegates, speakers and participants.
Prof Ahmad Saeed, head of Forensic Medicine at the Punjab Medical College Faisalabad, urged other medical schools to organise similar activities at their departments of forensic medicine.
During the scientific session, Allied Hospital Radiology Department Associate Professor Anjum Mehdi, Sargodha Medical College Head of Forensic Medicine Nadir Ali and Forensic Odontologist Humayun Baig of the office of the Lahore Medico Legal Surgeon presented papers in their respective fields.
Heads of Forensic Medicine Departments at King Edward Medical University Lahore, NUST Rawalpindi, Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto Shaheed Medical College Azad Kashmir, Khyber Medical College Peshawar, Khawaja Safdar Medical College Sialkot, Wah Medical College Wah Cantt, Yusra Medical College Islamabad, International Islamic University Islamabad, Gujranwala Medical College, Gujranwala, Sargodha Medical College, University Medical and Dental College Faisalabad, Independent Medical College Faisalabad and Aziz Fatima Medical College Faisalabad participated in the event. Faculty members of the Quaid-i-Azam Medical College Bahawalpur were present. Scores of medical undergraduates, police officers, members of the judiciary, lawyers and civil society activists participated in the conference.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 29th, 2016.