HOUSE OF MYSTERY?
Why Has LaCorbiniere Shut Down Crime Lab?
The green house with no name: Although officially opened in 2009, St. Lucia’s controversial multi-million-dollar forensic crime lab at Tapion bears no name and is yet to start delivering as expected.
On Wednesday 6 May, 2015, the permanent secretary at the Ministry of Legal Affairs, Rufina Frederick, together with Barbadian national Cheryl Corbin convened a meeting with the staff of the nation’s Forensic Science Laboratory. At the meeting’s commencement all personnel were asked to sign confidentiality agreements in the presence of police officers, their private cell phones were confiscated, and they were warned that if they revealed details of the day’s meeting, they would face serious consequences. (This alone is cause for serious concern!)
By reliable account, Ms. Corbin indicated that since she would be conducting an “audit” of the laboratory “according to international standards,” all security passes and access codes would have to be taken from staff. They were later sent home and the lab shut down until further notice.
It may be useful at this point to explain what is an audit: it is a systematic and independent examination of facilities, equipment, personnel, training, procedures, recordkeeping, data validation, data management, and reporting aspects of a system to determine whether QA/QC and technical activities are being conducted as planned and whether these activities will effectively achieve quality objectives.
Audits are conducted by observing activities taking place, asking questions, evaluating responses and examining items such as records, equipment and reports. Auditors are unlikely to be effective in these activities unless they have prepared a clear plan of exactly what they intend to look at during the audit and, while they are looking at these items, specifically what they will be looking for.
The written list of the items the auditor intends to look at and for during the audit is known as the “audit checklist.” To avoid omission of specific areas, this checklist can be designed to include detailed headings for each of the aspects to be audited. Auditors should arrive for the audit with a very clear understanding of what items they intend to effectively observe and examine, which pertinent questions to pose, responses to be evaluated, information to be critically analyzed, all the while comfortably interacting with auditees, laboratory management and the quality manager.
The time committed to the audit process is largely spent observing activities taking place, asking questions, interviewing the technicians and other staff, listening to responses, formulating follow-up questions, and seeking clarification. Therefore, conducting the audit at the location where the activity is taking place is essential. It is important for auditors to have contacted the relevant manager prior to the audit to confirm the arrangements, including what they wish to witness and to whom they would like to talk. A brief meeting or other contact with the manager just prior to the audit to reconfirm the arrangements should be undertaken before initiating the audit process. There are so many things wrong with this socalled “audit” being conducted by Ms. Corbin that go against international standards. 1) All international standards require the presence of the staff during the audit. 2) All audits are carried out against a standard; Ms. Corbin did not indicate what standard was being used to perform her audit. 3) Any ISO audit must be performed by an ISO certified auditor. 4) The auditor is required to observe the activities performed by staff, ask questions and seek clarification.
Questions: Was the laboratory given notice of this audit? Is Ms. Corbin a certified auditor? What standard was the audit performed against? Why were all staff members relieved of their security passes and access codes? Why were they sent home? What type of audit is this?
Moreover: Is Ms. Corbin the director of the lab? Is Public Service Commission aware of this appointment? Does Ms. Corbin have a work permit to work in St. Lucia? Ms. Corbin and the PS indicate that she has a number of years’ experience; as a forensic science expert, does she see nothing wrong with this process?
When an audit is conducted in the absence of all staff, can the results be verified and accepted? The purpose of the audit is to observe staff at work, ask questions, examine records in the presence of staff, and seek clarification on any concerns. How was that done with no staff present? This process is flawed and lacks transparency, and consequently is null and void. The findings will not be accepted by the organization or a court of law. Reliable sources say Ms, Corbin had unhindered and full access to everything at the lab: records, documents, reports, computers and exhibits currently being stored at the lab, without any supervision or any staff present. Does the alleged forensic expert see nothing wrong with that? The lab’s staff are in no position to account for the integrity and security of exhibits while they were off the premises. They cannot know whether exhibits were tampered with, records changed, or whether vital information was in any way edited. All cases currently at the lab have been compromised—a major setback for the lab and the criminal justice system! A major concern for national security!
Two weeks ago the lab’s director resigned. This week, when an opposition parliamentarian sought answers from the Minister for Legal Affairs, Home Affairs and National Security, his typical response was that the MP was simply “playing politics” and did not deserve his attention!
The National Crime Lab at Tapion which has been a source of much specualtion