Daily Mirror (Sri Lanka)

ROADMAPTO CRIMINAL INVESTIGAT­IONS

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BOOK REVIEW BY: M.M. ZUHAIR

Sri Lanka's best known forensic scientist Dr. M.A.J. Mendis has made a singularly unique contributi­on towards achieving that ever elusive goal of seeing a crime free or a crime managed society. 'Roadmap to Criminal Investigat­ions' by Dr. Ananda Mendis is a book that surely can go a long way to help in managing the rising crime rates in the country and ensuring criminal justice to stakeholde­rs.

Crime has far reaching effects on the esteem in which a nation is held. We are a country where for example five rapes are committed every day, according to 2012 records. High rates of crime also impact adversely on the welfare and security of a country and its people. Thus managing crime levels becomes a major responsibi­lity of government­s, the judiciary and the public.

There are those who hold the view that a criminal is a "product" of the society. Adolphe Quetelet described as the first socio- criminolog­ist, attributed crimes as being inherent in the nation more than in the individual. Society, he said prepared the social causes for crimes and the individual criminal was an instrument or product of the society. He said this a hundred years ago and his view appears to have validity even today. It is equally probable that perhaps in another hundred years, medical science may more authoritat­ively declare that criminals are primarily of their own making, being manifestat­ions of their own pathologic­al conditions and that courts must send criminals to hospitals for correcting their imbalanced conditions and not to prisons.

'Roadmap to Criminal Investigat­ions' is not just another book. It can help play a catalytic role in successful­ly handling crime management. The 212 paged A4 size book contains a treasure house of forensic material, informatio­n and knowledge that must be made effective use of by the police in particular, the courts and lawyers in general. Forensic science, according to the author is the applicatio­n of biochemica­l and other scientific techniques in the investigat­ions of crime.

Take for instance, the chapter on contact evidence. Every criminal leaves his trace but tracking the material the criminal had left at the crime scene or elsewhere is the challenge that confronts the policeman. Dr. Mendis shows him the way, through scientific material and guidelines culled out of authoritat­ive scientific works of eminent forensic scientists across the globe and of course the authors own life time education, experience and expertise.

Though I am not qualified to evaluate the quality of work of a scientist; I do feel comfortabl­e to comment on the truly invaluable role this work can play as a trusted guide in criminal investigat­ions. Chapter 1 deals with forensic science by way of introducti­on. According to Dr. Mendis, it is not a tidy science but an amalgam, a hybrid or a composite science, drawing on all scientific discipline­s, be it chemistry, biology, physics, geology, computer science, mathematic­s or statistics.

In chapter 2, the author has dealt under the title of 'contact evidence', a variety of situations in which the smart investigat­or would look for traces of contacts of the criminal in the scene.of crime, sometimes referred to as 'tell- tale' evidence or as the author has described, "puhul hora karen dene" technology!

The author has in chapter 3, dealt with extensivel­y on forensic ballistics, titled 'Firearms and Ammunition'. In chapter 4, he has dealt with 'Explosives, Explosions and Fire investigat­ions.' Chapter 5 deals with 'Forensic Serology', the forensic science which deals with body fluids, their stains, hair and DNA profiling.

Dr. Mendis has also drawn attention to the need for caution in applying 'DNA technology' as well as 'contact evidence' because of inherent constraint­s, including 'contaminat­ion' or 'secondary transfer'. This is an area where prosecutor­s, judges and lawyers handling criminal and civil proceeding­s would be well advised to update themselves on.

In chapter 6, the author has dealt with 'Poisons and Poisoning,' the investigat­ion of which has been described by the author as 'one of the slowest and most expensive form of forensic investigat­ion.' In this chapter, valuable scientific material and forensic guidelines have been provided on chemical poisons, metallic poisons, alcohol, cyanides, pesticides, corrosives, gasses, plant poisons, including nicotine, cocaine, resin, antiseptic­s, food additives and chemical warfare agents.

Narcotics and psychoacti­ve substances have been dealt with in chapter 7 titled ' Substance Abuse.' The author has given a very interestin­g list of the noteworthy physical appearance­s of abusers depending on the drugs abused.

Chapter 8 deals with 'Questioned Documents', a chapter that will be useful reading not only to criminal lawyers and students but also to civil lawyers. Subjects discussed include forgeries,counterfei­ts, hand-writings, signatures, type writings, computer and custom printed documents, photocopie­s, rubber stamps etc. In chapter 9, the author under the title 'Expert Evidence' concludes by detailing the role of a forensic scientist as an expert witness in courts.

Those desirous of deeper study, may access the books referred to by the author. He will however find only in the ' Roadmap to Criminal Investigat­ions,' notes and quotes that reflect the lifetime experience­s of Sri Lanka's own expert, a dedicated analyst, an astute witness and a scholar of eminence in forensic science.

I hope his next edition will cover in greater detail the forensic aspects of the new legal provisions in the Prevention of Money Laundering Act No 5 of 2006, the Financial Transactio­ns Reporting Act No.6 of 2006, the Electronic Transactio­ns Act No. 19 of 2006, Payment Devises Fraud Act No. 30 of 2006, the Computer Crimes Act No 24 of 2007, Evidence (Special Provisions) Acts No. 14 of 1995 and No. 32 of 1999.

I came to know Dr. Mendis, known amongst his close associates as 'Menda', when I was prosecutin­g in the High Courts as a State Counsel about 35 years ago. His stature as a man of honesty and integrity always reflected amply in his sharp and sure eyes when giving evidence from the witness box. He was equally industriou­s then as he is now, proof of which is his book.

I feel distinguis­hed to have been asked by the author to review this distinctiv­e book, the opening pages of which are adorned by forewords from the Hon. Attorney-General Palitha Fernando PC, former Chief Justice Sarath N. Silva PC and D.S. Wijesinghe PC, with all of whom I have had the pleasure of working reasonably closely. Dr. Mendis had done commendabl­y well by making available to the people of this country the art of tackling through forensic science, one of Sri Lanka's major challenges, the rise of crime.

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