The Sindh High Court (SHC) has directed anti-terrorism courts set up in the province to follow the Supreme Court judgement in cases pertaining to sexual assault.
The directive was issued as part of new guidelines to ensure swift and transparent trials in rape cases.
The high court verdict came in response to a petition filed by Kainat Somroo and others wherein they sought the intervention of the high court over non-compliance with the SC order regarding sexual assault cases.
“Police stations have failed to engage civil society organisations on the receipt of a rape complaint…preservation of and testing of DNA evidence is sporadic, un-standardized and delayed, the facilities available for DNA testing continues to be severely limited and dysfunctional,” the petitioners told the high court.
The petitioners added that the authorities blamed these lapses on the lack of SOPs that were still in the making.
The high court, while disposing of the plea, told the Sindh police chief and officers concerned to ensure compliance with the SOPs – detailed in the verdict – and translate them into Urdu and Sindhi so they can be sent to the police stations across the province.
According to the high court, the cases of sexual assault shall be directly supervised by the SSP concerned who will be immediately intimated by the duty officer when an FIR for offences concerning sexual assault is lodged.
The SSP shall ensure that forensic teams are fully equipped to collect the evidence, the court said, adding that the teams tasked with collecting the samples and evidence should be notified for each district.
“The SSP in coordination with police surgeon will monitor on a weekly basis the DNA testing and all above mentioned time frames and shall ensure immediate compliance and strict action should be taken against the officers responsible for the delay,” the verdict stated.
According to the court, it must be ensured by the SSP concerned in coordination with district health officer (DHO) that a female medico-legal officer was available round the clock, or on call, at least at each taluka or town level hospital.
“Such hospitals should be notified in each district so that victim is taken to the nearest hospital,” it added.
"The AIGP Investigation and AIGP Forensics shall ensure that the notified laboratories do not refuse to accept DNA samples or refuse to give reports on the pretext of non-payment of fee," the judgement read.
However, the home secretary and the IG shall ensure that requisite funds are allocated and disbursed by the Sindh government for timely payment of the DNA test fee to the concerned labs.
In the event that any DNA test and/or its report is pending due to non-payment, the laboratory bills/liabilities should be cleared immediately from the cost of investigation head or from the cost of investigation inspector general of Police Reserve Account.
The SHC said that the duty officer (SHO) shall ensure that the FIR is lodged at once after the intimation of a complaint regarding sexual assault. “While registering the FIR, the Police will strictly follow the directions contained under Section 154 CrPC,” it said.
“The complainant/victim should be informed that the victim should not bathe or change…until the medico-legal examination has taken place. Furthermore…a separate set of clothing should be taken to the relevant hospital for the medico-legal examination,” it read.
The judgement said that the SHO must ensure that the medico-legal officer is informed immediately and added that in case of a female survivor, the presence of a woman medico-legal officer must be ensured.
Upon the lodging of FIR, a forensic team is required to visit the scene of the crime for collection of DNA samples, the new SOPs read, adding that the scene of the crime should be sealed immediately to secure the evidence.
“Such instructions be issued to police posts that as soon as they receive information regarding offence, the duty officer should proceed to the place of incident and should not wait for registration of FIR,” the court ruling added.
The investigation officer should ensure that till the visit of the Forensic Team/Crime Scene Unit, the place of incident is secured in a manner that the evidence could be collected. The judgment added that the investigation officer will ensure that the DNA samples are delivered to the relevant laboratories within 24 hours.
The investigation officer must follow up with the labs so that the reports are collected and placed in the police file and incorporated in the challan as soon as possible, it said, adding that the IO shall ensure that the reports are collected within 24 hours after intimation that they are ready.
The IO should also ensure that these reports are then immediately placed before the court along with the challan with originals duly sealed and secured at some appropriate place for production by the prosecution during trial, the order read.
SOPs for MLO
Upon intimation from the SHO that a sexual crime has been committed, the medico-legal officer shall ensure their presence at the relevant hospital on time so that the victim does not have to wait, the SOPs read.
The ruling added that the clothes worn by the rape survivor or the accused at the time of offence must be taken, preserved and sealed for testing.
The MLO shall ensure that the medico-legal certificate is prepared as soon as the examination is taken place and completion of all formalities, the judgement read, adding that the Investigation Officer must be notified as to when the report will be ready so that the report is collected without delay.
“In case, a Radiology test is required but the facility is not available at the place of examination, then the MLO shall specify that within 24 hours the victim should reach the relevant Radiology lab and the MLO should get in touch for obtaining the reports quickly so that final MLC is issued without delay.”
SOPs for forensics
The forensic team shall take DNA and other samples from the scene of the crime without any delay and avoid contamination at all cost, the judgement read, as it underscored measures to avoid contamination of the crime scene.
Always wear disposable gloves and mask before touching any evidence; use disposable instruments for handling each sample; avoid touching the area where you believe DNA may exist; avoid talking, sneezing and coughing over evidence; avoid touching your face, nose, and mouth when collecting and packaging evidence.
The court further restricted allowing one evidence stain to come into contact with other biological samples or residue from other biological samples.
Other SOPs outlined in the judgment for the forensics team included: contact between victim and suspect samples should be avoided at all times; do not subject evidence to heat or sunlight to dry it; each evidence should be packaged separately into paper bags; take the container to the evidence if possible; use clean containers for transport; seal all packaging securely with a seal; each item should be packaged, sealed, and labelled as soon as it is taken; ensure that any person attending a crime scene has no contact with a suspect or his/her clothing.
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