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SHC seeks progress report on SOPs to improve medico-legal system

The Sindh High Court (SHC) has directed the health department to submit a report on the progress made in finalising standard operating procedures (SOPs) to improve the medico-legal system of the province.

The order came on a petition seeking the abolition of virginity tests in rape cases. In the previous hearing the SHC had directed the health department to submit the SOPs finalised in the

15-member medico-legal reforms committee meeting.

A division bench headed by Justice Mohammad Ali Mazhar said certain orders were issued to the 15-member committee for finalising the SOPs in consultation with all the experts in the field. Granting the application for urgent hearing, the court directed the health department’s chief technical officer to submit a progress report with regard to the finalising of the SOPs to improve the medico-legal system of the province. The bench also summoned the chairman of the 15-member medico-legal reforms committee, the additional police surgeon and other experts for the assistance of the court on January 26.

According to Natasha Ali and other petitioners, medico-legal officers (MLOs) perform hymen tests and two-finger tests as part of the medical evaluation of sexual assault victims. They said that such tests are unreliable, unnecessary and without any scientific basis.

They also said that the people accused of having committed rape are mostly acquitted either for want of evidence or on unsubstantiated suggestions that the victims were promiscuous or immoral in conduct, adding that these standards defy the constitutional liberties vesting in and with all citizens, including victims of sexual assaults.

The petitioners said that other nations comprising the subcontinent have outlawed such practices as being unlawful and in violation of basic human rights, adding that there is a need for judicial intervention premised on similar standards.

They said that the government has made amendments in the criminal procedure law, making DNA tests in sexual assault cases mandatory, adding that the superior courts have also ordered that DNA tests be conducted in all rape cases.

They also said that despite the significance of the courts’ decision in highlighting the role of DNA evidence, a large-scale shift among investigating officers and their attitude towards the collection of DNA evidence in all sexual offences is yet to be observed.

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