These days, it is a rarity in the developed world that a criminal case is brought to court of law without being accompanied by forensic evidence. Therefore, safeguarding a crime scene from contamination, collecting physical and any other evidence meticulously, carrying out the necessary forensic tests in a state-of-the-art forensic laboratory and interpreting results accurately have all become utmost critical ingredients in crime-solving efforts in order to ensure credible scientific evidence which is being created to aid court verdicts. With many advances in science and technology in the 20th and 21st centuries, forensic science is recognized, and rightly so, as a critical element in solving crimes and is used as the main investigative tool for law enforcement agencies across the world.
This blend of science and technology has enabled forensic scientists to solve many crimes that once would have been deemed beyond resolution. An upgrade, so to speak, from the widely used first-line of evidence – fingerprints. Forensic science covers extremely a wide realm of techniques and evidence types—including biometric data such as DNA, fingerprints, and facial recognition, plus crime scene evidence such as tool marks, footwear impressions, and ballistic evidence, and emerging fields such as digital evidence.
Although, the first forensic technique ever used involved the use of fingerprints to establish the identity of documents and clay sculptures by the Chinese and dates back to circa 1300 years ago. This is an illustration of the enduring role of forensic science and the vital part it plays in the justice system. The word “forensic” has its roots in the Latin word “forensis” which means a forum. The history of the word originates from Roman times, during which a criminal charge meant presenting the case before a group of public individuals in the forum. Both the person accused of the crime and the accuser would give speeches based on their sides of the story. The case would be decided in favour of the individual with the best argument and delivery.
This, unfortunately, means that criminal orators may have escaped justice simply because they were good at speaking. However, in modern use of science and technology, good or bad at speaking is not the case, and forensic science is the application of science and technology to solve cases – Criminal and Civil. Still, the original term forum also fits in perfectly in today’s meaning of forensics, when you consider that scientific evidence is open transparent, verifiable, and above all debated at courts – but the credible science wins the case.
The Importance of Forensic Evidence
The extraordinary scientific innovations and advancements in forensic science have allowed it to become a highly developed science. It has become an essential part of the judicial system, as it utilizes a broad spectrum of sciences to achieve information relevant to criminal and legal evidence. Forensic science proves the existence of a crime, the perpetrator of a crime, or a connection to a crime through the examination of physical evidence and traces left behind at the crime scene. As the old saying goes, forensic science work begins at crime scenes and ends at courts. Forensic Evidence is extensively used worldwide to both convict and acquit suspects, because it utilizes scientific evidence that is Objective and Unbiased.
Without the application of forensic science, criminals can never be convicted unless an eyewitness is present. This is a testament to the enormous importance of the need to present forensic evidence to the court of law to either convict or exonerate a suspect of a particular crime. Forensic evidence is that piece without, which the puzzle of a criminal investigation is incomplete.
Some of its many advantages are; it can establish links between the suspect, the victim and the crime scene, it can establish the identity of persons associated with the crime, it can corroborate or refute testimony. A suspect confronted with physical evidence often confess and is more reliable than eyewitnesses. Moreover, it can link separate crimes together. Forensic evidence ensures that crimes are detected and prosecuted with greater certainty and consequently conviction rates can increase.
As the great French criminologist Mr. Edmund Locard famously said “Every Contact Leaves a Trace’’, and indeed this transpires if the crime scene is managed well and ensured that it is not tampered with or contaminated. Irrespective of the type of forensic science analysis being performed or the forensic techniques and technologies employed – it is essential, at first, that evidence must be collected from crime scenes and victims in a meticulous manner that avoids contamination. Whilst also making accurate documentation on the spot for the laboratory results to be admissible in court of law. For that reason, it is critical that we train our officers in evidence collection, evidence control, and crime scene processing. Understanding the massive contribution that forensic science makes to criminal investigations and the exoneration of innocents accused of crimes they did not commit is of paramount importance.
Forensics in Somalia
In 2017 forensic science made an intro into Somalia when the Bureau of Forensic Science (BoFS) – the first-of-its-kind forensic bureau in Somalia – was officially launched in Garowe in September 2017. The establishment of the bureau was made possible by a generous donation from the Swedish government which was facilitated by the United Nations Population Fund. The bureau opened less than a year after Puntland State of Somalia endorsed its Sexual Offenses Act, the first law in Somalia to criminalize sexual offenses. BoFS is an autonomous government institution with a constitutional backing and is the sole operating forensic entity in Somalia.
Therefore, its expertise and services are readily available for all member states of the Federal Republic of Somalia, with a particular attention to Sexual and Gender-Based Violence.
The bureau is equipped with the latest deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) based technology is capable of scientifically performing DNA forensic testing to differentiate between biological specimens – evidence and reference. The bureau has expanded its services into forensic chemistry and toxicology, and this expansion is crucial as it will help the bureau solve the drug facilitated sexual Assaults – a phenomena that the bureau has witnessed significantly.
The law enforcement agencies and the judiciary in Puntland and wider Somalia have begun to rely on forensic science results from the Bureau of Forensic Science. Thus, together, we should take care of it as the goose that lays golden eggs, and we must invest in forensic services and facilities to sustain this effort for generations to come.
By Yasin S. Farah & Abdirashid M. Shire PhD
Yasin S. Farah holds a Bachelor Degree in Chemical Engineering from Lund University, Sweden and a Master in Analytical chemistry from London Kingston University. Before joining the Bureau of Forensics Science in Puntland as the head of forensic chemistry & toxicology department, he worked for 12 years in the chemistry and pharmaceutical sector both in Sweden and the UK.
Abdirashid M. Shire holds a Bachelor in Biological Sciences from Lafole College of Education, Somali National University; a Master in Medical Parasitology from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), University of London; and a Ph.D. in Molecular Biology from LSHTM, University of London. Abdirashid has over 30 years of work experience from world renowned education and research institutions such as: LSHTM, University of Iowa, Mayo Clinic and King Saud bin Abdulaziz University for Health Sciences. He is currently serving as the Chancellor & Chief Scientific Officer of the Puntland Bureau of Forensic Science.