Limited resources coupled with pressure mounted by relatives of the deceased to hand over the body at the earliest, especially in cases of sensitive nature, at times leads to goof-ups during post-mortem examinations. This often has a bearing on the prosecution’s case and provides a potential tool for good defence to the accused during trials.

The latest case in point is that of Ponty Chadha, whose body was handed over to his relatives after the post-mortem. However, doctors soon realised that they had forgotten to extricate a couple of bullets and immediately recalled the body. “In such a situation where relatives are at the doorstep of the post-mortem room eagerly waiting for the body, there are chances of them committing such mistakes amid all the confusion. Though in this case, the doctors had got the X-ray scan of the body done,” said a doctor working for a premier government hospital, adding that the mortuary area must be cordoned off to avoid any distraction.

Explaining the circumstances under which a post-mortem is carried out, the doctor said an average of 50 to 60 post-mortems related to various cases including accidental deaths, suspected poisoning, suicide or murder are conducted every day at different government hospitals in the Capital.

“Considering manpower constraints and the objective of maintaining a high level of efficiency and output, court appearances are an added burden. In the present system, there are instances of doctors having been served court summons for appearance as late as 10 years after the incident.”

The medical expert said: “Transfer of the doctors concerned or job shifts cause further complications. Due to inadvertent delays, warrants are also issued against the doctors on several occasions demanding mandatory appearances. Frequent court appearances also have a bearing on their output.”

Another forensic expert said to streamline the system, institutional arrangements should be made to avoid unnecessary post-mortem in cases where it can be waived off at the police station level on account of sufficient evidence negating any foul play. Also, the visits of doctors to courts should be minimised.

Another area that requires urgent redress is online connectivity between courts and hospitals to ensure that post-mortem reports are easily and readily accessible to the judiciary. “In Punjab, the High Court has a foolproof online access to the post-mortem reports generated at PGI Chandigarh. The model can be replicated everywhere in the country, including Delhi,” said another doctor.

Acute scarcity of forensic laboratories is yet another problem plaguing the criminal justice system. “We have only one State-level Forensic Science Laboratory and one at the Central level with the Central Bureau of Investigation. These labs are overburdened due to manpower crunch in terms of expertise,” said the doctor.