Letters & Opinion

Rumblings Of A Nation – The Forensic Laboratory

louis-murray‘IT is your lab, Saint Lucians, and it can work – if permitted to. Demand that it be allowed to work!’

Those were the last set of words on our controversial forensic laboratory in a lengthy disclosure to THE STAR Newspaper in 2013, by the laboratory’s resigned former DNA consultant. Around then she also separately predicted what would be the unfortunate demise of the laboratory under its controlling Ministry of Legal Affairs. Both Dr. Fuller and myself, with a total of about 50 years experience in forensics, realized exactly where the laboratory was heading and that a range of problems would eventually overwhelm it.

Following the collapse of three important mandated services of the laboratory in early 2012, later that year and after a discussion with a very concerned Director I was requested by the Ministry of Legal Affairs to prepare a report towards a re-establishment of those services. Within about three weeks I prepared and submitted a document as requested which also addressed aspects of staff training. I indicated an urgency for a return to normal use of unutilized instrumentation previously nine months dormant. Although not part of my assignment but due to my specialized training in illegal drugs and psychotropic substance examinations, recognizing certain weakness I offered to assist in monitoring operations in the laboratory’s drug testing division. That report and my additional offer were never accepted and interestingly now that very drug division is centre piece but not the only factor in the laboratory’s eventual closure.

I want to be clear here. Even as the laboratory closed around June last year it became largely unable to conduct investigative forensics from as far back as 2012 when those three services collapsed. Further, with first on and off and on again functionality in DNA services in 2013 and the eventual collapse of that unit in late 2014, the curtains were brought down on the laboratory’s ability to conduct any form of investigative forensics. Since laboratory investigative forensics is the main or often only area utilized in rape and murder investigations those developments would have prevented the laboratory from making any investigative contribution in that regard and should have been alarm bells for an immediate review of its mandates. So issues with the laboratory really do not only revolve around what precipitated its eventual closure last year as it had already long lost much functional capacity.

A forensic laboratory is a high level security facility involved in complex scientific work of legal importance and is of major significance to justice systems. Consequently and also because of transparency and accountability practices, international laboratories when faced with issues relating to irregularities have to engage in immediate and major damage control. Not silence but early disclosure is also necessary to cater for enquiring media houses and alert scientific and legal communities. However, whilst those bigger laboratories would have the human and technical resource capabilities and options to recover, for us with little, such would be a much harder undertaking. So it is also for those reasons that foresight and prudence should have been prominent in ensuring proper decision making at all times in the way our laboratory was being operated, both from the ministerial and laboratory management levels, so as to ensure we would not have arrived at such a stage.

The Forensic Laboratory is Formally Opened.
The Forensic Laboratory is Formally Opened.

When closed, nine months ago, the authorities were obviously thrown into a major embarrassment and quandary and had to suddenly deal with an overwhelming situation. That would have necessitated careful assessments, calculations and rectification at a magnitude which the Legal Affairs Ministry would never have been faced with before. Further hard decisions would have to be made as to government’s involvement in its future operations. Whilst it should never have come to that, reluctantly I suggested private intervention whilst Dr. Stephen King is on record as suggesting a public private venture arrangement.

In my view the controlling Ministry stumbled in its handling of the whole matter. The closure should have been an immediate national disclosure with the seriousness it deserved and supported by the necessary accurate and relevant pronouncements by the Minister of Legal Affairs and with an indication of exactly the way forward. Instead, early silence and secrecy prevailed, with an inadequate damage control apparatus. Not surprisingly came the inevitable leaks and ‘on the street’ rumours began circulating. I too gathered information from the streets. It was not until the Leader of the Parliamentary Opposition publicly spoke out that the closure attracted some media attention. During that time I wrote of a dangerous vacuum of information surrounding the laboratory’s sudden closure and which was doing it ten-fold more harm than the actual problems it encountered. Public speculation became rife with certain misinformation and damaging inaccuracies. But all of that was the price for a likely casual and inadequate response to a bad situation, similar to the previously deteriorating functionality of the laboratory which remained unaddressed up to its closure. In fact denials were the provided responses then.

So the late but necessary cries of citizens in a country experiencing a surge of rapes conducted with impunity represent the rumblings of a nation. Discussions about the laboratory are now unprecedented. Finally we have heard and read of statements by various senior police officers of the handicapped nature of certain serious criminal investigations due to the laboratory’s closure. But even more worrying is the revealing admission by former Acting Commissioner Alexander that with the lengthy wait for overseas forensic results suspects have had to be released back onto the streets. Interestingly the Prime Minister’s pronouncement about serial rapists may well be a direct consequence of Mr. Alexander’s revealing admission and an indirect consequence of a closed forensic facility.

Next week. Part Two: The tension between emotion and reality in reopening the laboratory.


  1. Here is a simple and assisted way of partly funding the forensic lab so as to keep it functional and a rest with technological advancements. Once the lab is reactivated and operational have the government implement some policy or policies where a percentage of the funds collected in cases of rape, murders ect by the criminal system, should be given to the forensic lab so as yo maintain proper functionality at little or no additional cost to the public.
    Transparency, accountability and proper documentation of these funds should also be a top priority once implemented, in assuring that the funds are entirely used for its intended purpose.

  2. We do not have to be a super rich nation to live a better peace and tranquil life, our leaders simply have to do a better job of becoming creative in their thinking in combination of planning and executing ideas or policies that enables the system to function more effectively and efficiently.
    Unless we are able to demonstrate we have the ability to learn and transfer the theories of ideas we learnt in a classroom setting, then we are simply holding a useless piece of paper in our hands that we call a degree . When in reality we are totally incapable of applying those theories learnt, into our practical lives.

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