Globally, science is expanding at an ever-increasing rate and improving on all frontiers. With virtually every field of study tapping into scientific developments for great gains, the legal industry is certainly not left behind. Today, in the pursuit of justice, the judicial system across various jurisdictions harnesses development in forensic science to gather evidence to prove the guilt or otherwise of an accused person.
Forensic science is a multidisciplinary subject used for probing crime scenes and gathering evidence to be used in the prosecution of offenders in a Court of law. Forensic evidence refers to evidence obtained by scientific methods such as but not limited to ballistics, blood tests, and DNA tests. As a scientific discipline, it is largely concerned with proving criminal offences. It begins at the crime scene and ends in the courtroom.
Forensic science is an integrative subject. It combines several branches of learning used for inquiring about crime scenes and collecting evidence to be used in the trial for the prosecution of offenders in a Court of law. Branches such as ballistics, fingerprinting, hand-writing, toxicology, etc., are combined for efficiency in criminal proceedings. Forensic scientists examine objects, substances (including blood or drug samples), chemicals (paints, explosives, toxins), tissue traces (hair, skin), or impressions (fingerprints or tidemarks) left at the locus of criminal events.
In law, forensic science is invaluable in the pursuit of justice. This is because the proof of crimes is a very delicate transaction having at its centre the innocence or guilt of an accused person. The law recognizes the importance of forensic evidence in prosecuting criminal cases. When scientific methods are rigorously used, without bias or prejudice, they can provide cogent evidence in uncovering and proving the crime.
The vital role forensic science plays in the criminal justice system cannot be overstated. It provides mathematical exactitude precise information through the analysis of physical evidence, and the identity of the culprit through personal clues like fingerprints, footprints, blood drops or hair. It links the criminal with the crime through objects left by him at the scene and with the victim or carried from the scene and the victim. On the other hand, if the clues recovered do not link the accused with the victim or the scene of the crime, the innocence of the accused is established.
As with every piece of evidence desired to be brought before the Court, the use of forensic evidence in courtrooms is guided and limited by the rules of evidence as contained in the Evidence Act, 2011. The admissibility of forensic evidence is predicated on the relevancy of such evidence to the matter before the Court. However, it is noteworthy to state that the Evidence Act makes no specific provision for forensic science. In fact, at the time of writing, there is no law within the country specifically regulating forensic science application and enforcement.
In other jurisdictions such as the United States of America, South Africa, Canada and Australia, there are specific laws that cater for forensic science. These laws have been enacted to improve the forensic status so that the crime can be detected with certainty and justice carried out.
Also, Lagos State must be commended though as very recently, the state house passed a bill for a law establishing the Lagos State Deoxyribo-Nucleic Acid (DNA) and Forensic Centre to support criminal investigations, law enforcement, preservation of evidence for the judicial system, and for other connected purposes. A part of the objectives of the centre includes providing for the use and regulation of DNA-based technology in Lagos State to carry out profiling or analysis.
Other than Lagos state, it would appear that despite the many benefits which stand to be gained from the use of forensic evidence, Nigeria generally has a somewhat passive approach towards imbibing this science. This is so because there is a limited number of forensic labs in the country which in the opinion of many, are not well equipped and not adequately manned. More so, the usage of science by law enforcement at crime scenes. Timelier and quality crime scene management need to be emphasized because the country has a lot of situations where crime scenes are not properly sealed and embargo placed on the public from going in. It almost feels like there is an overreliance on eyewitness accounts and the likes, despite the existence of a much-improved science. Undeniably, forensic evidence is more reliable than visual evidence.
Furthermore, our judicial system would greatly benefit from our criminal investigation departments embracing forensic science more. Advanced technology has given the world a useful and accurate tool for the purpose of criminal investigation. In criminal jurisprudence, it is usually said that: “it is better for one criminal to walk free than ninety-nine innocent men to go to prison.” At present forensic science, in furtherance of this idea, plays a vital role in crime and criminal detection with much more exactitude. Forensic science as scientific evidence is a benefit for the criminal justice system.