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Ghana: Call for an Independent Forensic Science Laboratory

A group of forensic science researchers have recommended the independence of the Ghana Police Service (GPS) Forensic Science Laboratory (FSL).

According to the researchers, the separation of the FSL from the direct command of the GPS will ensure compliance with international standards, effective operation of the lab, and enhance public confidence in the application of forensic science in Ghana.

The group justified this position by highlighting a potential prosecution bias and risks of miscarriage of justice.

In an unrelated development, the families of the missing Takoradi girls have called for an independent forensic DNA test to confirm the identity of recovered human remains in the case.

These developments highlight an urgent need for a policy review in the practice of forensic science in Ghana.

In a review paper published in Forensic Science International: Synergy, the Ghanaian forensic scientists detailed key policy recommendations to transform forensic science in Ghana. These are outlined below:

Legislation: Policymakers should consider best practice from other countries and implement appropriate legislation to govern the use of DNA, fingerprints and other biometrics. This is relevant because the police have already begun creating forensic information databases.

To prevent miscarriages of justice, it is highly recommended that policymakers and relevant stakeholders codify the admissibility tests for expert opinion evidence by drawing from international best practice.

Governance: An independent forensic governance approach through the creation of an independent forensic institution or through the leadership of an independent Regulator or Board is recommended. This can help prevent the potential risk of bias in the current police-led framework of governance, ensure discipline and priority for forensic needs, budgetary allocation and generation of funds.

Forensic service provision: Clear guidance on terms of service provision by the FSL to the police and other forensic users should be drafted. Further, a national policy on forensics should include appropriate funding and resourcing arrangements to sustain the forensic market. This may include public-private partnerships and national-regional grant schemes or collaborations to address resource and funding needs.

A decentralised model of service provision should also be developed to ensure the timely deployment of forensic services across the regions of Ghana.

Quality assurance: The lack of accreditation and regulatory bodies to oversee the quality of forensic science provision poses a risk to justice. Thus, a national forensic quality policy should be established that requires the adoption of the ISO 17025 and ISO 17020 for forensic service providers. This should be supported by the GSA, the proposed GNAS, the Forensic Science Society of Ghana (FSSGH), GPS and other relevant bodies.

Impact of forensic science: An evaluative programme should be established under an appropriate governing body to monitor and report on the impact and effectiveness of forensic science in the legal system. This will ensure that key challenges/issues are identified and resolved. Further, such information may enhance public support for the application of science in the legal system.

Forensic science education: To develop existing degree programmes into internationally acceptable standards, an accreditation model led by a forensic society (such as the FSSGH) or experts should be adopted.

Also, the curriculum for forensic degree programmes should integrate close partnership and interaction with practitioners, forensic service providers and international higher education institutions.

Forensic science research: A national policy on forensic science should include a research framework that coordinates all forensic research activities in the country. A Forensic Science Research Institute (FSRI) may be created for this purpose with a focus on addressing research gaps in industry or practice.

Read the full paper here: Amankwaa, A. O., Nsiah Amoako, E., Bonsu, D. O. M., & Banyeh, M. (2019). Forensic science in Ghana: A review. Forensic Science International: Synergy. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.fsisyn.2019.07.008

Source: Scientect Research Reports