Medico-legal flaws

Published January 23, 2022

ON Friday, a 13-page verdict authored by Justice Ali Zia Bajwa of the Lahore High Court revealed a shocking fact about medical examiners that carry out medico-legal work. Few in the country would be unfamiliar with the term, but it bears repetition nonetheless: the medico-legal process refers to the physical examination at a mandated health facility of victims of unnatural death or injury, possibly involving criminality, that could have legal repercussions. From assault to accidents to suspected homicide, and everything in between, the first step of the investigation is the medical examination that puts on record the victim’s injuries. One would imagine, then, that medical examiners in this specific field would be well-trained. But it seems, as the honourable judge observed referring to data provided by the Primary & Secondary Healthcare Department, a mere 10.45pc of medical examiners in Punjab meet the minimum qualification threshold that is mandatory before a person can embark upon medico-legal work. Even worse, if that were possible, is how low the bar for qualification is: a four-week practical training course.

“A medico-legal system with 90pc inexpert and unqualified medical examiners surely is not in consonance with the right to fair trial as guaranteed under Article 10A of the Constitution,” the judge said. This is, as he noted, an alarming situation that must result in the miscarriage of justice in an untold number of cases every day. The dispensation of justice is one of the most important pivots of a functional state and society, key to which is balanced and objective adjudication. But such a process can remain only a pipe dream as long as even the most basic evidence-gathering process is deeply flawed and inexpertly conducted. The equivalent data in other provinces needs urgent collation, and the situation must be immediately rectified. Not only must the current qualification requirements be stringently implemented, the qualification itself needs revision, as the judge recommended. Without that, there can be no hope of improvements in the justice system.

Published in Dawn, January 23rd, 2022

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