If everything goes well, Bhutan will have a forensic laboratory by the end of next year.  The Austrian Development Agency office in the country has committed to establish it.  Groundwork has already begun.

This is welcome news, as forensic evidence is crucial in investigation and rendering justice.  Forensic test results play an important role in upholding the criminal justice system.

With the Constitution and Evidence Act mandating evidence to prove cases beyond reasonable doubt, our investigating agency today send DNA samples to other countries, which not only delays justice but has huge cost implications.

Without a forensic laboratory, especially DNA testing facilities, there are many unresolved cases.  Results for more than 1,000 samples involving 137 cases are pending, meaning there are 137 criminal cases unresolved, including the gruesome rape and murder of an eight-year-old girl in Paro and a nine-year-old girl in Dechencholing in Thimphu in 2019.  Unresolved cases also include rape and pregnancy of minors.

When justice is delayed, justice is denied not only for the victims and their families but also for litigants charged for the crime.  Some could be innocent.  It is also more dangerous when people, who committed the crime, are lurking in society, scot-free and possibly committing more crimes since they know the weakness of our system.

The laboratory is planned at the national health laboratory in Serbithang.  Police, health ministry and the judiciary are working together to establish the facility.  Who will manage it is the big question.  The concerned agencies could work together to establish the laboratory but the authority to manage the laboratory should be an independent agency.

The Prime Minister, in an earlier interaction with the media, said agencies have their own authority and security of the facility would be given utmost priority but did not state which agency would manage the laboratory.

The RBP Act is clearer.  It states that a forensic laboratory has to be an independent and autonomous institution to avoid conflict of interest.  By all standards and norms, the laboratory should be manned by an independent agency and not the investigating and prosecuting agency.

Laboratory independence ensures transparency.  It makes the lab at par with other critical stakeholders in the criminal justice system.

Establishing a forensic laboratory is just the beginning.  It’s the government’s mandate to ensure all the requirements are addressed.  It is an opportune time for the government to work towards addressing all the needs, including establishing an independent agency or body for transparency and accountability, and clarity on who will manage it.

And along with the forensic laboratory, it is equally important to ensure our investigating agencies, especially the police, are equipped with expertise to, for instance, gather forensic evidence from crime scenes without contamination.