A Review of ... Forensic Medicine in South Africa: Associations between Medical Practice and Legal Case Progression and Outcomes in Female Murders



KEY WORDS:
African victims, autopsy, case management, clinical, Coloured victims, conviction rates, crime laboratories, crime scene, DNA analysis, Domestic violence, Epidemiology, evidence, female homicides, Forensic Medicine, Forensic pathology, gender, genital swab specimens, Intimate partner violence, laboratories, legal outcomes, Legal proceedings, Medical Practitioners, mortuaries, multinomial logistic regression, murder, nail scrapings, perpetrator, Police, Quality Controls, rape, South Africa, South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC), Toxicology, University of Cape Town, Vanderbilt University, victim, women 14+.

REVIEW:

The article was a disheartening look at South African female murders and the lack of impact that forensic procedures have on the related outcomes of court proceedings. Case progression and conviction outcomes were thoroughly analysed in both the article and related study.

Statistically both show that all that hard work of doing autopsy, collecting non-weapon evidence, and generally anything scientific (other than nail scrapping) has little impact on the conviction of a perpetrator. More importantly it seems that laboratory quality control measures have no impact on improving efficacy of such and that the significant factors leading to conviction are the investigators (legal or police) actually visiting the scene of the crime, the murder weapon being located, and/or a documented history of violence of the accused toward the female victim.       

While the South African Police Service's Genetic Sample Processing System (GSPS) was the first computerized system in the world for comparison of biological evidence - full autopsy is time intensive and mentally exhausting procedure for medical examiners which cannot be mechanized. Given that murder rates in South Africa are quite high there’s a frustrating lack of outcomes despite the equipment and man-power exerted. Coupled with South Africa’s deficient financial assets, it calls into question if such endeavours are worth the expense!

Though the article is written as much as possible with standard South-African English, and isn’t jargon loaded, its’ too bare-bones. Paradoxically it was excessively repetitive of some points and could have been shortened in length by two (maybe three) pages.

Ironically the related report on the efforts of the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) on what medical measures (forensic or otherwise) are effective in relation to gender-based violence (though significantly longer) is choc-a-block with important points and yet more concise than this report. Missing were the questions of whether or not doing such science-based processes gave anyone emotional closure and/or the social impacts on the victim’s family, friends, and tribal community – which is an extreme oversight in my opinion. Insufficient coverage of the emotional verisimilitude and perspectives of those involved in prosecuting the perpetrator and/or examining the evidence toward forensic processes was given. This is odd in light of the fact that the report does cite multiple sources with such commentary.