By Louis Murray
Just about two weeks ago I saw a lady whom I know only by face and was heartened by her comments on my articles on, ‘matters forensic’, which she indicated she enjoys. But it was the seriousness in her expression that gave me a true realization of just how important professional information and opinions can be to the reading public.
I have been committed to no less than my bit in my comments over the years as to the unacceptable state of operations at our forensic facility. I had even alluded to the fact that some professional policies were courting dangerous boundaries. A colleague of mine, the laboratory’s former resigned DNA consultant, had also commented on poor operational management at the facility. Between us we have over 50 years of experience in varying specialist areas of forensics and that our comments were ignored was unfortunate. So my professional conscience did not allow me to remain passive while our $7 million facility was going so wrong. It is an important national investment that we had waited on for so long and would also be the training ground for budding forensic scientists. But even worse and something I never anticipated was the comment by the Minister responsible for the laboratory of a major criminal investigation into operations at the facility. At the time of its eventual and sudden closure I chose not to comment.
However it is difficult to refrain from commenting on some other interesting aspects. Most notable are the damning allegations emanating from the resigned director on both operations at and the state of the laboratory, none of which to my knowledge has been officially and publicly refuted by the authorities. That condemnation of such an important legal and high level security facility needed to have been immediately addressed, one way or the other, in the interest of the facility, public confidence in and the justice system it served. Consequently that absence makes the former director’s comments note worthy.
Another interesting aspect was the failure of important persons, much more knowledgeable than the general public, to have flagged the ills plaguing the forensic service. Whilst I would not be aware of possible discussions within the halls of government it is public comments, even if with discreteness, from key and relevant individuals that often stir and push the authorities into addressing issues whether of irregularities, weak management practices, matters of an unprofessional nature, or critical operational deficiencies. In my view our Director of Public Prosecutions whom I worked with on a number of cases and do acknowledge her professional standing, missed a good deed by failing to firmly comment on her handicapped nature from a largely dysfunctional service. Previously I commented on possible unfortunate consequences if cases ripe for forensic investigations but denied of such were to have been advanced through the courts, maybe through frustration, without that requisite information.
My disappointment similarly applies to both our former Commissioner and Crime Chief as I am confident they too knew exactly the state of our forensic service and the largely inability of it to provide the levels of work it was mandated and expected to perform. I had commented on the obvious embarrassment to our current Acting Commissioner in response to a Timothy Poleon ‘Hot Button Issue’ question as to how the crime laboratory was assisting the police in obviously cases of murder and rape but having to respond instead on the laboratory’s role in drug testing. But within the past months I have commended some high ranking officers for their courage in speaking out on the many investigative setbacks due to the absence of local forensic services. For me those who didn’t initially and properly ventilate the issues to the extent of what finally played out all failed our forensic service and as is often the case they move on leaving the pieces to be collected and reassembled, always at costs and consequences which should not have been.
Last month would have marked five years since the laboratory, relatively infant in my opinion, commenced operations and seven months since its closure. Interestingly within that relatively short time of operations it has lost the services of all the top technical staff, including consultants, who started at the facility when it opened in 2010.
We have heard the government’s present intention for a public private venture partnership arrangement now likely the best option in view of the laboratory’s recent history but we await specifics. However the challenge will be reestablishment and the ticklish aspect the tension between the need for reopening without unnecessary delay and the need however to do so properly and in whatever time frame sufficient to ensure that all of the issues will be correctly assessed and resolved and the necessary implemented. Further, any act(s) of criminality will have to be acted upon. All of that so as to ensure integrity and scientific, legal and public confidence in a reestablished venture. Additionally that time will also be determined by the effects of structural deterioration, efflorescence, instrument operational readiness and non use maintenance issues and loss of the laboratory’s operational credibility.
We can only hope this year our forensic facility and service will be set on the correct path and with the necessary make up so as to attain its true potential. That will be of tremendous importance for our justice system.