Though a new year is approaching, bringing with it a clean slate for crime statistics, residue from 2017’s most hideous crimes will surely spill into 2018. For family and friends of victims, as well as members of the wider public fixated on justice, the outcome of rape, murder and other ongoing cases will continue to be anticipated, hopefully soon, with the added assistance of a fully functioning Forensic Science Laboratory.
Due to its contribution to the successful prosecution of criminals, the Lab’s closing on May 6, 2015 was a justified cause of alarm. The facility saw its closure proceeding claims from authorities “that there were improprieties in evidence handling and the security of the facility” which sparked investigations. Claims were also made regarding the structure of the building, deeming it overdue for remedial work. In February of this year it was brought to light that after a few structural concerns were addressed, the lab had been partially re-opened with intentions of gradually becoming fully operational through a “phased approach” and that new leadership, as well as added staff training, was said to have begun. The question now is: How far along have things come, nine months later?
During an interview with the STAR, published November 15, 2017, Senator Hermangild Francis, Minister for Home Affairs, National Security and Justice disclosed that only phase one of the transformation process had since been completed as the focus was placed on the sourcing and accumulation of $500,000. According to the minister, this amount was needed to finance the necessary changes to the physical structure of the Lab, personnel training and security shortcomings – the latter of the three the only issue now completely resolved. Nonetheless, although the building remains uninsured and the Lab uncertified, “Persons are still working . . . we have a lot of people coming on board, wanting to assist us in regards to the lab. But what I can tell people is the lab has been doing well,” he iterated.
To strengthen his point, the minister claimed that of the 53 murders in Saint Lucia this year (up to the time of the interview), the majority had been solved. He said, “Well, police would be able to tell you off the bat but [the rate] is very high. It’s about 60% solved.”
The Lab’s current operations as an uncertified unit have also been a sore spot for some who have called for skill in the handling of evidence in criminal cases. A member of Raise Your Voice Inc, a group advocating against gender-based violence, retorted under a ‘Justice for Saadia Byron’ social media post, “We need the forensic laboratory fully equipped with trained technicians.”
In an attempt to debunk doubts surrounding the Lab’s adequacy, the minister highlighted that athough the Lab remains uncertified, the workers are equipped and capable of analysing samples to identify criminals; and, for these criminals to be charged, samples are sent overseas for confirmation as results need to come from a certified lab to be viable in court.
On account of work currently conducted at the Lab on rape cases, after declaring his intention to be discreet and to avoid making preemptive statements ahead of police arrests, the minister said, “They have actually now solved another five rapes based on the DNA and so on.” He added, “In speaking to Fernanda Henry (the Lab’s director), there are two persons in the system who have been charged for rape. Then we had about four or five others where persons were unknown but, because of the work of the Lab, now we can connect those persons to the rapes. I’m not too sure if that happened this year or last year but we have done that and that’s just to show you that the Lab is functioning,” – his proclaimed uncertainty towards the end nulling what could have otherwise been entirely good news.
As for the building’s structural dilemmas, these have not been addressed in full, requiring what the minister referred to as “big renovation”, which is expected to get underway soon.
So here we are again, moving into another new year with only our hope to carry us. Hope that the anticipated domino effect for solved crimes and locked up criminals will restore our confidence in Saint Lucia’s judicial system and to have us walk the streets with a little less worry. This and the added initiative announced by Prime Minister Allen Chastanet of the possible introduction of a sex offenders’ registry could mean a positive turn-around for Saint Lucia.