Salman verdict boosts conviction in state forensics lab

Salman Khan's lawyer had pointed out that the State Forensic Science Laboratory was not accredited, but the court admitted lab's findings and partly based its verdict on this; department now in process of accreditation

The Sessions court verdict in Salman Khan’s hit-and-run case has brought cheer to scientists at the state-run Forensic Science Laboratory (FSL) in Kalina, who feel vindicated by the conviction, especially since the trial had brought to light that the lab was not accredited.

The court found that Salman Khan had indeed been driving under influence, basing its judgment on the chemical analyser findings from the forensic lab in Kalina, along with other witness statements. Representation pic/Thinkstock
The court found that Salman Khan had indeed been driving under influence, basing its judgment on the chemical analyser findings from the forensic lab in Kalina, along with other witness statements. Representation pic/Thinkstock

The court admitted the prosecution’s case that Salman was indeed driving the vehicle while drunk while, basing its judgment on the chemical analyser findings from the lab, along with other witness statements.

During the trial, it was revealed that the State Forensic Science Laboratory (SFSL) is not certified by either International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) or the National Board of Accreditation (NAB), a point that the defence had used to imply that the lab’s findings might not be up to mark.

Speaking to mid-day soon after the verdict, SFSL director Dr M K Malve said, “The verdict in today’s case has made us feel happy. In forensics, we always believe in a saying — a person can lie, but scientific reports cannot lie.”

‘In the process’
Malve admitted that the SFSL’s accreditation was still pending, adding, “We are in the process of obtaining IEC 17025 accreditation (ISO), and are hopeful to receive the same within next few months.”

When mid-day asked whether SFSL began the accreditation process only after the Salman’s defence lawyer pointed out the lack, Malve replied in the negative, claiming they had started the process two years ago but could not follow up due to a heavy backlog of cases.

According to him, there are very few forensic laboratories in the country that are accredited, but the lack of accreditation does not mean that scientific findings by the laboratory are not as per international norms or standards.

Prosecution speak
This point was echoed by Special Public Prosecutor Pradeep Gharat, who represented the state in the Salman Khan case. “Non-accreditation of the SFSL is a technical point; it does not mean that the scientific evidence collected and examined in the laboratory are suspicious.

The SFSL is a state government-run laboratory that has qualified trained technical staff to carry out such forensic process to extract the truth, submit the findings, and even testify before the court during trial,” he said, adding further, “If scientific evidence were to be produced only from accredited institutes, then all those who have been convicted on the basis of SFSL reports since independence would stand to be acquitted.”

However, according to State Public Prosecutor Rohini Salian, not having such certification can often hamper a case. “Scientific evidence is usually the best evidence while presenting the prosecution’s case during trial. However, non-availability of accreditation may derail the trial process, as the defence can easily puncture holes into the scientific reports presented by FSL,” she explained.

Lab falling short
The SFSL gets a budgetary provision of about R60 crore from the state and the police department, of which a major chunk goes towards paying salaries. SFSL, which runs six centres all over the state, is likely to add two more at Kolhapur and Nanded in a few months. But, it is currently short on staff with nearly 200 vacant posts from the sanctioned strength of 1,031 personnel across Maharashtra.

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