Lack of a national forensic lab undermines criminal justice

Njoki Ndung’u

I share with Kenya Anti -Corruption Commission Director PLO Lumumba his frustration on the lack of a modern and professionally national forensic laboratory. For PLO it is the one thing that would assist in resolving many white collar crimes. For me it is a critical requirement for the apprehension of sex offenders, many of them going off scotfree for lack of forensic evidence.

And although the Sexual Offences Act 2006 provides for the setting up of DNA databank for sex offenders, which would assist in tracking repeat offenders, this has not been put in place due to the lacuna created by lack of a proper laboratory.

PLO states Kenya is incapacitated in dealing with cyber crime, but the situation is far much worse. For a better understanding of this point, I came across a description that holistically describes what forensic science encapsulates. It is the application of scientific methods and processes to matters that may involve criminal or civil matters and public research and statistics. In particular, forensics experts deal with forensic chemistry, which includes drugs, toxicology, trace evidence, explosives, fires; forensic biology, including post-mortems, DNA, body fluids and tissue analysis; and criminalistics, which encompass fingerprints, documents, firearms, ICT, tool marks. Currently, most of this work is done by the Criminal Investigations Department and scientists under the Auspices of the Office of the Government Chemist.

The Government Chemist is an affable and hardworking Kenyan whose office, most awkwardly placed under the Ministry of Health and not Internal Security, is where his scientists sit analysing semen and blood samples from crime scenes in the same space that non-crime laboratory analysis, such as seed and fertiliser analysis for improved crop production, takes place. The storage of criminal samples is hardly secured unlike in modern countries where sophisticated security systems have been installed to protect such evidence. From time to time, because of its outdated equipment, – most of which are almost antiques and in Lumumba’s words – would belong in Museums in other countries – Government has even has to outsource some of its work to private forensic laboratories.

In fact, most DNA analysis for cases relating to paternity or electronic data information retrieval is conducted within the private sector. The sad truth is that a lack of a national forensic laboratory severely undermines the entire criminal justice and legal system and every Kenyan’s right to access to justice.

This is public information with which the National Forensic Science Association has been lobbying for the setting up of a statutory body that would house a professional national forensics laboratory. This idea first mooted by the CID has been discussed in conjunction with the Attorney General, the Office of the President, and even the Cabinet. So why has it not been set up? Initially, the problems were related to one of the so called Anglo Leasing contracts, in which procurement of the laboratory had been awarded in 2002 but subsequently cancelled and monies returned to Government in 2004. Since then, the provision of the laboratory has appeared intermittently in the National Budget under the Office of the President but there is no information as to whether its procurement has been advertised, tendered and awarded and whether we expect any positive outcome soon. As it is now, as one expert put it, hundreds of criminals are literally getting away with murder while others are rotting in jail for crimes they did not commit. Perhaps, the Parliamentary Departmental Committee dealing with Administration of Justice and Legal Affairs can give Kenyans a clear way forward on this dilemma.

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- The writer is an advocate of the High Court.

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Kenya Anti -Corruption Commission Lumumba forensic laboratory Sexual Offences