Forensic laboratory coming to Antigua and Barbuda

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By Latrishka Thomas

The government is seeking to ensure that the likelihood of there being any miscarriage of justice is significantly reduced in 2020, what with plans to establish a forensic laboratory in Antigua and Barbuda.

This is according to Minister of Public Safety, Steadroy ‘Cutie’ Benjamin who said that this year, plans are in place to ensure the ease and speed of gathering data for analysis, and for use in legal proceedings.

“The police department is very concerned about solving crime, and to use the best possible information and scientific developments to assist us in resolving those issues. In that regard, great attention will be paid this year to develop our scientific and forensic potential. We shall be looking at establishing a forensic laboratory here in Antigua, where we can analyse information and analyse bits of evidence to help in solving crime, generally speaking,” Benjamin said.

Benjamin further stated that by virtue of the lab, materials for forensic testing will no longer be sent to any of our neighbouring islands.

He said: “This will be to our benefit, because at the moment, we have to send bits of evidence overseas to Jamaica, Trinidad, or to Barbados to get assistance. So, we shall be concentrating our efforts this year in establishing a laboratory where we can have those things done in Antigua and Barbuda to help to resolve crime more speedily. That is our aim this year.”

Recently, La Toya Lake-Marshall – who was a local police officer for almost 18 years, and acted as an expert forensic crime-scene specialist and criminologist for some time – shared some the challenges she experienced working in the forensic department.

She said: “Basically, we’re going to court and winning cases on circumstantial evidence, as opposed to having certain things tested to back and strengthen that case. So, the challenges which we are faced with is that enough was not being injected into the forensic department, as in a sense of supplies, how we function, where we are located. As you know, we were located at the St. John’s Police Station where, at that time, when I was there, it was not conducive for us to function in a proper environment; we needed to be relocated.”

She added that they also “didn’t have a proper storage facility at the time. Lack of air-conditioning units for a while,” which caused exhibits to degrade.

Lake-Marshall who is now the head of the forensic department in St. Kitts, also disclosed that samples would sit for a long period of time and “by the time the case comes up in court, nothing would have gone to be tested.

According to her, circumstantial evidence did a lot of heavy lifting in criminal proceedings.

“And I can’t really say that in all cases, [but some] cases were thrown out. Luckily for us, circumstantial evidence was strong enough to actually curb the minds of the jurors and so on. With good work from the prosecution and so on, we were able to hold down these cases,” the forensic specialist stated.

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