TAMIL NADU

Vital clues hold the key

A businessman's wife was found dead on the terrace of her house on the outskirts of the city a few months ago. Only a few months into her marriage, the death raised suspicions of dowry harassment and her husband and in-laws were charged with murder.

Sustained investigation by forensic experts at the scene of crime, however, clearly established a case of suicide and not murder. The police relieved the husband and in-laws of murder charges but retained charges of harassment.

The complications of medico-legal cases and the manner in which they are approached called for rethinking, according to forensic experts.

Doctors held that unnatural causes of death, cases where the deceased person's identity was not established and death under mysterious circumstances (174 Cr.Pc) — mostly suicides, automatically come under the MLC category.

At present, the investigative officer, who was usually the police inspector, relied solely on the findings in the post-mortem report.

According to doctors at the Stanley Medical College, their role ended with deciphering the exact cause of death during the post-mortem.

Experts were of the view that this concept of relying solely on the autopsy report by a person who has not visited the scene of crime would leave many loose ends in solving the crime. ` `Vital clues may be lost if the inquest — investigation at the scene of crime — is done by a person who is not qualified,'' says a forensic expert.

Traditionally, investigators relied solely on circumstantial evidence and witness examination, rather than clues picked up during the inquest.

Activists were of the view that relatives of the victims of road traffic accidents (which also come under the classification of MLCs), pass through a harrowing experience.

Citing a 1989 Supreme Court judgement that all hospitals should accept all emergency cases and administer first-aid treatment to the victims, they said that most hospitals continued to reject such cases, in blatant violation of the order.

Activists pointed out that more than the actual trauma of a road traffic accident, touts and ignorance of provisions in the law cause greater harassment to the relatives. They said ``ambulance chasers'' were on the prowl the moment an accident case was reported.

Ignorant and desperate relatives give in to the demands of unscrupulous elements. Members of the Accident Victims Association said there were several occasions, when relatives ended up getting only a part of the compensation granted to them.

Doctors argued that they rejected certain cases fearing ``legal complications''. An expert in medico-legal documentation reminded that meticulous documentation could help the doctors to keep clear of blame in case complications arose.

However, he acknowledged that documentation took a backseat when doctors attended to emergency cases where it was important to save the life of the patient.

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