PESHAWAR: In a bid to improve criminal investigations into causes of death, the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) health ministry has created a cadre of specialised medico-legal officers who will be responsible for carrying out autopsies and filing reports for criminal cases.
According to officials of the health ministry, the government will also try to improve the efficiency of forensic medicine in the province since it was critical to the criminal justice system.
“The competent authority (K-P Chief Minister Pervez Khattak) is pleased to approve the creation of district specialists [medico-legal] cadre with immediate effect,” read a copy of the notification issued by the health department on Tuesday.
Officials, who were in the know about the matter, stated that doctors rarely touched bodies which were brought in for autopsies. Moreover, cutting up exhumed bodies for investigation was deemed a step too far by the doctors.
Thus, the delegation of this macabre act to ‘someone else’ was generally accepted as normal practice, officials confided.
“Usually untrained and uneducated staffers of the health department carry out post-mortems and on their verbally narrated findings, the doctors prepare medico-legal reports,” officials said.
Since these staffers are untrained in human anatomy and forensic sciences, they usually miss crucial clues which would help decide cases in courts, they said.
Cases such as murder and rape require authentic and genuine medico-legal reports to help decide them.
In the event of rape, reports were usually prepared by women. But since these doctors were required to attend every court hearing of the case, it created a social burden on women professionals who were already burdened with balancing their work and family lives.
“Sometimes, a doctor who carries out the post-mortem of a dead body or writes the report in a rape case is transferred to another district. But during the hearing of the case, the doctor has to be present in the courtroom which makes it difficult for doctors,” a senior health official said.
The official, who requested anonymity since he was not entitled to speak to media, added, “there was no problem with male doctors, but women faced immense pressure as well as problems while dealing with such cases.”
According to health ministry officials, there will now be a specialised group of people whose only job will be to deal with post-mortems and medico-legal reports and will not be associated with other aspects of medical practice.
“Yes, these are specialised services and experts will be given training on modern techniques so that courts do not face any problem during case hearings,” the official explained.
“Just like we have specialised services for anaesthesia and radiology, [these] experts will be trained on forensic medicines,” he said.
Lawyers welcome move
Meanwhile, Peshawar Bar Association’s former press secretary Bashar Naveed appreciated the government’s step, noting that dedicating a specialist for autopsies and medico-legal reports will help courts decide cases on merit.
“Sometimes, a medical officer only signs a report and does not even share his name for which the Health Services director general has to be approached and the duty register is then searched to trace the doctor concerned,” Naveed said, suggesting that often they had to do a fair bit of forensics to find the person who conducted forensics on a body.
“Once specialised people are tasked with the job, they will carry out duties with a focus on making it easy for courts to reach a conclusion.”
Published in The Express Tribune, January 10th, 2018.
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