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Practice of forensic pathology in India

Read more as Project 39A explains the current practice of forensic pathology in India and its lack of regulation.
© Project 39A, National Law University, Delhi

Post mortem examination plays an important role in criminal investigation. Therefore, all post mortem reports must be submitted along with all materials that allow for adequate reviewability by another forensic pathologist. Unfortunately, the practice of post mortem examination in India remains largely unregulated with little attention towards reviewability of such reports.

Aside from the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare’s guidelines and protocols for Medico -legal care for survivors/victims of sexual violence and Directorate of forensic science services, Guidelines for forensic medical examination in sexual assault cases, currently there are no published guidelines or protocols that are widely followed for medical examination and post mortem examination. Photographs, videos, sketches of the deceased body are often not prepared as part of the post mortem examination or not submitted along with the report. There is an absence of quality checks and professional standards relating to autopsy that regulate forensic pathologists and government hospitals. In recent years, many Indian High Courts have taken cognizance of the poor state of the post mortem examinations and the need for proper procedures to be followed.

In Adil Khatri v. State of Maharashtra and Anr (2019) a writ petition was filed before the Bombay High Court seeking directions on post mortem examinations in cases of deceased female victims. In this case, the Court took cognisance of the fact that often post mortems were conducted by untrained ‘safai karamcharis’ (cleaning staff) and the doctors would merely sign the final report. The Court noted that the post mortem examinations must be conducted by a forensic expert. The Court stated that it is necessary to introduce a system to ensure that a forensic expert conducts the post mortem.

Similarly, in RM. Arun Swaminathan v. The Principal Secretary to the Government, Health and Family Welfare Department, Government of Tamil Nadu (2020), a public interest litigation was filed before the Madras High Court to seek directions on the manner of conducting autopsies. The Madras High Court passed directions for post mortem certificates to be issued based on the NHRC model and post mortems to be videographed whenever a request is made by the relatives or friends of the deceased. The Court here also directed the government to provide adequate infrastructure and resources to hospitals where post mortem is conducted.

While the above decisions make small steps towards addressing the alarming practices associated with post mortem examinations in India, they are far from ideal. There is a need for an urgent systemic change to ensure proper regulation of medico-legal autopsies. This requires policies regarding quality management, infrastructure, training and recruitment to be made and implemented consistently throughout the country.

© Project 39A, National Law University, Delhi
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