FROM all what has previously been indicated and what is now emerging, so serious is the situation surrounding our relatively new forensic laboratory and its closure that it must be treated as a national issue. Evidently things have come to a head.
A few years ago the laboratory’s DNA consultant who had then resigned, registered her frustrations by way of some revealing and damning allegations on operational issues and management shortcomings. Also at that time and over a continuing period, a VOICE contributor and former consultant to the laboratory has been expressing serious concerns over what he alleges is the laboratory’s underutilization, inefficiency and issues relating to staff training and expertise. He has frequently claimed the laboratory’s largely dysfunctional state, untested work and increasing case work backlog. Closure now will obviously make that situation worse.
Those allegations of concern evoked a swift denial from the Minister for National Security and Home Affairs with responsibility for our forensic services and a promise of a subsequent comprehensive report on the laboratory, which is yet to materialize. Further, the nation has been treated to complaints from some families of victims of murder, expressing dissatisfaction with our forensic services.
Last week Parliamentary Opposition Leader Dr. Gale Rigobert issued a warning for government to inform on and address certain issues at the laboratory, lest its entire future be jeopardized. She indicated of worrying developments including allegations of security and process breaches occurring for some time now, resignation of the director and closure of the laboratory. The former director who Dr.Rigobert indicates had complained incessantly about security issues and expressed grave discomfort with the storage of critical evidence was evidently hurting in private.
Interestingly Dr Rigobert is requesting clarification on whether a foreign entity has already been commissioned to investigate the laboratory and conduct an audit, who that person is and if there are plans to install a new management entity at the laboratory. Shockingly she also asks if illicit substances have been changing in composition and quantities, simply meaning whether or not drug evidence was being altered and or stolen. That damning aspect must be aggressively investigated and if with foundation no less than brought to finality before a court of law.
From the above it is fair to conclude that much has been and is amiss at our crime laboratory, sufficient to ask how much meaningful case work has been emanating from it to justify its operational costs? Consequently its ministry’s wherewithal to oversee such an important scientific facility must be questioned.
Our Governor General in her Throne Speech in referring to crime spoke to the provision of evidence in prosecuting cases via a proposed Witness Protection Bill. But there is another type of useful evidence which is forensic and hence the reason for our state of the art laboratory, the only one in the OECS and which should have already been serving our sister islands. Unfortunately that aspect will now and for some time in the future be an impossible sell.
That our police investigators, prosecutors and the justice system will be seriously affected by this whole situation is an understatement. The authorities must move with dispatch and transparency to do the right things to both start the rectification process and bring the laboratory to its full operational potential. Evidently it will take a full and independent investigation, not only a one person audit, so as to once and for all successfully tackle all of the issues plaguing the laboratory and no fooling, it will be a long and difficult road to get it on a sound footing. The watch words capability, efficiency, confidence and credibility will be major challenges ahead.