Legal and forensic experts have called for increasing the use of forensic DNA evidence in the Indian criminal justice system as it can play an important role in helping the courts arrive at just and logical conclusions.
According to them this can yield better results, improve conviction rate, and reduce backlogs.
Speaking at a panel discussion in the 24th All India Forensic Science Conference held in Ahmedabad, specialists from various disciples such as forensics, law enforcement, victim advocacy, and policy & legislation urged authorities to address the poor demand for DNA casework in India and optimise existing forensic infrastructure .
The session was organised by Gordon Thomas Honeywell – Governmental Affairs(GTH-GA) along with Raksha Shakti University and Gujarat University, Ahmedabad, and featured officials from agencies like CFSL, CBI .
Poor Growth Of DNA Casework In India
Forensic DNA has grown by leaps and bounds in most countries, but India remains woefully behind.
There is currently no criminal DNA database program in the country, and DNA casework – collecting DNA from known suspects and comparing it to DNA left at crime scenes – remains sporadic.
According to GTH-GA Estimates, DNA profiles are developed in less than 10,000 cases annually in India. A country like the United Kingdom, on the other hand, typically completes DNA testing on nearly 50,000 cases per year.
The conviction rate in crimes against women in India fell to 18.9% as per the 2016 NCRB report, the lowest in a decade and just one in every four rape cases ended with a conviction, the experts noted.
The specialists highlighted that DNA evidence is today rarely collected in cases and even when it is available, the samples were found to be either irrelevant or the DNA yield turn out to be poor.
According to the experts, poor DNA casework in investigations is due to
- lack of training crime respondents in handling evidence
- improper crime scene management
- overburdened and underfunded forensic labs, and
- inadequate awareness regarding DNA evidence collection, particularly in sexual assault cases.
Citing field studies, Dr. G. K. Goswami, IPS, Joint Director, CBI, Lucknow stated that investigating agencies avoid forensic evidence as a result of “undue delay in forensic reporting.”
Dr. Rajiv Giroti, Dy. Director CFSL, Hyderabad has recommended an “integrated approach”. He said that changes need to be brought in evidence collection and there must be increased coordination between investigating agencies and other stakeholders for better functioning of the labs.
Goswami has also called for the augmentation of “forensic facilities” which includes qualified personnel and technology.
DNA Evidence Powerful Tool For Convictions
The panel experts observed that DNA evidence can be effectively used to solve crime even in the absence of a database citing the example of Italy, where DNA evidence is used to solve crime even though there is no database in the country.
Ravi Kant, Senior Advocate at Supreme Court and President of Shakti Vahni noted that DNA fingerprinting is one of the most “reliable forensic tools” which can be used as “a potent weapon against sexual predators.”
The panel has recommended that
- first responders and all involved officials in regards the chain of custody of evidence be educated and trained regarding DNA evidence
- a central ‘standard operating procedure’ in the form of an investigation manual be developed
According to Tim Schellberg, President, GTH-GA , groups that work to protect women and children against violent/sexual crime must demand DNA collection from crime scenes as well as their timely testing.
He stated that only by taking advantage of forensic DNA can the country’s conviction rate be increased.