Walter Mswazie Masvingo Correspondent
MASVINGO province has seen a 25 percent increase in murder cases, with a High Court judge bemoaning the absence of up-to-date forensic analysis of evidence.
Officially opening the 2016 legal year for the Masvingo High Court circuit yesterday, Justice Joseph Musakwa of the Bulawayo High Court said lack of DNA evidence in police investigations was either letting criminals off the hook or nailing innocent people.
He also raised concern over the use of lethal weapons in resolving disputes and called on members of the public to exercise restraint when provoked.
“It also came to my notice that police statistics reveal that there was an increase in murder cases by 25 percent within the province in 2015. I’m also informed that there are 83 outstanding matters for this circuit court. Factoring an average clearance rate of 20 cases per year, it would take about four years to have outstanding cases cleared. You then have to factor in new cases coming up,” said Justice Musakwa.
“This then underscores the need for a permanent High Court in Masvingo. A permanent court also enhances access to justice as parties will not have to travel inordinately long distances and spend a lot of time away from their families and their undertakings.”
He said 11 murder cases are being tried during the present quarter.
“Some among our population don’t hesitate to shed blood despite murder being among 10 Commandments in the Bible. We urge our people to restrain and avoid yielding to anger. It’s only when one is put in a corner and has nowhere to run that one should ever think of resorting to violence,” said the judge.
Justice Musakwa commended all law enforcement agents for their work in resolving reported cases.
“The only blemish is the absence of up-to-date forensic analysis of evidence gathered from the scene of crime. In some cases, samples taken remain untested at the laboratory until cases are tried. DNA analysis which enhances the quality of evidence before the courts is seldom resorted to, even if it can be outsourced,” he said.
This, he said, may sometimes compromise the adequacy of evidence placed before the courts and result in guilty suspects getting off the hook or innocent people being convicted.
“Even finger-print, palm-print identification is way behind,” the judge noted.
The National University of Science and Technology (Nust) in Bulawayo has offered its DNA testing services to the Zimbabwe Republic Police after commissioning a revolutionising $500,000 DNA centre last year.
The ZRP does not have a crime lab and prosecutes crimes without the benefit of DNA — which can be used to clear or convict suspects based on crime scene evidence testing. For instance, semen left on a rape victim can be tested to generate a DNA profile which can be compared to those of suspects, eliminating the chances of wrongful convictions. DNA profiles can also be generated from blood, sweat, hairs and body tissue.
Zephaniah Dhlamini, the chairman of the Department of Applied Biology in Biochemistry at Nust, said they were keen to find legal ways of helping the police in solving crime, and one such method was to keep a DNA database of every convicted offender for future comparison when new crimes are committed.
“This will help in databasing all criminals so that their DNA is stored for future references. If a crime is committed in certain areas, they can do a check on the evidence that’s found at the crime scene or on the victim and find a match,” said Dhlamini.
“It’s unfortunate that some innocent people are rotting in jail for crimes they didn’t commit, and this facility comes in handy under such circumstances.”
Meanwhile, Justice Musakwa urged all those involved in the justice delivery system to respect the rights of detained and accused persons noting that such rights are enshrined in the country’s constitution.
He said any evidence that is obtained in violation of the constitution may result in an unfair trial.