EDITORIAL: Lab loss a worry


THE DISCLOSURE earlier this week of the loss of thousands of dollars worth of reagents from the Forensic Sciences Centre, during industrial cleaning of the centre, has to be a matter of grave concern.The disclosure was made in the Magistrates’ Court recently by a senior forensic scientist called upon to explain why he could not testify in the preliminary inquiry in a murder case.The senior scientist told the court that the loss had been discovered after the reopening of the centre which had been “out of commission” for 18 months.Earlier this year, the Government sought a supplementary to pay for extensive corrective measures which had become necessary after mould had been found to have severely damaged the centre’s air quality equipment, fire control systems and security cameras. The House was also told that as many as 30 staff were unable to work due to respiratory problems and allergic reactions to the mould.It now seems that while this necessary remedial work was being done that the current crop of problems arose, and it must be very disconcerting to the highly skilled scientists at the centre that this series of unfortunate occurrences have hampered the necessary work that they do. To make matters worse, as it were, it now appears from the evidence of the senior forensic scientist that it can take as little as two months, and possibly as much as six months, to procure new supplies of the reagents so that the specific forensic tests can be done.  Whatever the cause of this latest problem, it is hardly a satisfactory situation, since it has led to a postponement of the final stages of the preliminary inquiry of murder case. We were not told from the report whether the accused is on bail, but in similar positions, justice delayed may be justice denied, and the constitutional right of an accused to a trial within a reasonable time may be compromised and the state exposed to civil liability in appropriate circumstances.The importance of the work of the centre can be gauged from the scope of the organisations which it services. Among these are the Royal Barbados Police Force, the courts, the Government Industrial School, the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, and the Psychiatric Hospital, among other public institutions. In addition the centre provides technical services to nine Caribbean countries, and participates in internship programmes at the request of regional academic institutions and from British and North American universities.Given the critical importance of this centre, it is a little difficult to understand how the reagents became damaged. The court was assured that the “security of the lab was maintained during the process of the industrial cleaning, with the evidence being stored in another part of the building”.If we accept this explanation, then we must ask why a similar approach could not have been adopted for the reagents which were paid for from the public purse, and which will now have to be replaced by public funding.One of the first priorities of the newly appointed Attorney General must be a major effort to speed up the local end of the ordering and payment process so that the reagents which have been ordered can be in the island with minimum delay.In modern commerce it is simply unthinkable that such critical supplies cannot be procured in a shorter time frame than that given in evidence. The public interest and the ends of justice demand a shorter time!


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