HOUSE OF MYS­TERY?

Why Has LaCorbiniere Shut Down Crime Lab?

The Star (St. Lucia) - - FRONT PAGE - By Juan Hoonose

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

and con­tro­versy.

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