This week we were fortunate to have Dr David Klatzow visiting us to give us an overview of the history of forensic science in South Africa by looking at the apartheid era up until the Oscar Pistorius trial.
In 1984, Dr Klatzow established the first private forensic laboratory in South Africa and during a period of 28 years he has investigated over 2000 cases ranging from criminal matters to civil disputes. He has also worked with the Legal Resources Centre (http://www.lrc.org.za/).
During the seminar, Dr Klatzow demonstrated the issues of having forensic science departments closely linked to police or government agencies; as it creates a dangerous situation because experience has shown that these departments can be left open to mistakes and even corruption.
He further emphasised that the first step to changing this process is at the crime scene management stage. The Oscar Pistorius case is a prime example where rigorous crime scene analysis was not followed. The bathroom door was removed from the scene for ballistics analysis and even later brought into the courtroom, when such analysis could have been carried out at the scene. By doing this they risked contaminating the scene as well as introducing unnecessary bias to the case
Dr Klatzow’s talk represents current debates that are prominent in the field of forensic science. Ensuring the robustness of forensic evidence at all stages, from the crime scene to the presentation in court, is essential to ensuring accurate and unbiased conclusions. Encouraging the use of experimental studies to validate our assessments as forensic scientists, rather than just relying on craft knowledge, is an obvious trend in the field and something that we at the CFS strive to incorporate into our teaching and research.
We are very grateful to Dr Klatzow for taking the time to talk to us about these issues and share his experiences.