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March 15, 2018

Lack of funds for DNA tests, failure to implement law blamed for low conviction rate


March 15, 2018

The utilisation of DNA evidence is almost negligible in Pakistan, and various legal hurdles undercut the unanimous reception of DNA evidence in all sorts of proceedings, said a senior police officer working for Sindh’s Forensic Division.

“Ocular evidence [eyewitness] is considered number one in our courts, which can be totally false. We don’t have a DNA database that makes it easier for law enforcement agencies to identify offenders in unsolved cases,” said Fida Hussain Mastoi, assistant inspector general of police (AIGP), on Tuesday.

He made these remarks in response to a question after his address at a seminar, titled ‘DNA testing in sexual assault cases: biological and forensic perspective’, organised by the Science Society of Barrett Hodgson University (BHU).

Making timely use of quality forensic science remained a challenge due to a lack of funds, he said and called on legal aid agencies and the provincial government to make more funding available.

DNA [deoxyribonucleic acid] tests in rape cases were made mandatory in Sindh after the provincial assembly passed the ‘Code of Criminal Procedure (Sindh Amendment) Bill 2017’ in February last year to facilitate investigations and ensure dispensation of justice to victims.

However, the law was yet to be implemented due to lack of resources and funds, Mastoi said, while listing key hurdles in the field.

“Rape has to stop,” he said, adding that DNA had not only impacted areas such as paternity testing and genetics, but it had revolutionised the field of criminology and improved the functioning of the criminal justice system.

“DNA helped police catch the suspect in the Zainab rape and murder case where millions were spent on DNA and legal procedures. Now we are looking with wide vision at the predator nature of these types of offenses.”

According to AIG Mastoi, DNA profiling affects individuals’ criminal trajectories, but the general equilibrium effect on crime is clearly of greater relevance.

Both deterrence and incapacitation can decrease the crime graph, barring rapid replacement by new offenders, he said, adding that as more potential reoffenders are added to the state’s DNA database (data maintained by the government for storing DNA profiles of its population), the crime graph fall proportionally, he said.

In his address, Dr Nazir Ahmed, associate professor of the BHU, said: “Since the advent of DNA profiling, this type of evidence has become an extremely powerful tool in the field of criminology. Given that a person’s DNA is the same in all areas of their body, it can’t be altered in any way.

“It is a form of evidence resistant to tampering although it can become degraded if collected and stored improperly. This degradation, however, will affect the ability of the DNA to be sequenced as opposed to being incorrectly sequenced. Since no DNA is the same between two people but with the exception of identical twins, this form of evidence is now relied on as an accurate way to direct criminal cases.”

DNA profiling is the process whereby a string of deoxyribonucleic acid is extracted from a cell of an organism, mixed with a ‘restriction enzyme’ which, when processed, reveals the blueprint of an individual; instructions in each of 23 pairs of chromosomes that dictate physical characteristics, function and individuality, each is completely unique to an individual.

DNA signature is duplicated in every cell of a person’s body, including urine, tears or semen; therefore, scientifically accurate identification can be made.

Dr Ahmed further said: “The forensic investigation system must be developed in all metropolitan cities as DNA being the most reliable evidence can ensure justice to the victims of sexual assaults and other crimes.”

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