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Imbert: Need to clear the air on local pathologists
The issue of unqualified forensic pathologists was first sparked by the infamous Brad Boyce case and since then it has never been thoroughly resolved. Former Health Minister Colm Imbert said unless the matter is resolved, issues caused by discrepancies in autopsy results, like that of Lance Cpl Curtis Marshall, will always occur.
“Since the Brad Boyce case the issue of whether our local people are suitably qualified or whether they are good enough has always been in question. This is something which keeps coming up over and over again and we need to resolve it. “This has always been a very controversial topic and it will not go away just like that,” Imbert warned.
Imbert said as far as he is aware, the only forensic pathologist registered with the medical board is Dr Valery Alexandrov. He gave a brief history of how Alexandrov came to be employed with the T&T Government.
Speaking highly of Alexandrov’s qualifications, Imbert said the Russian-born pathologist, who trained extensively in the United States and has performed autopsies worldwide, was recommended by the UNDP to work in T&T when the PNM government was searching for a forensic pathologist.
“At that time I had already left the Health Ministry, but I was on several ministerial committees and one of my functions was to find a forensic pathologist for the country. “We had gotten a lot of assistance from the UNDP before and in this instance we also sought assistance from that organisation. When we looked at Dr Alexandrov’s CV we were very impressed. We believed he was well qualified to do the job and we were right,” Imbert said.
He said the government wanted a foreign pathologist because there was speculation over the qualifications of local pathologists. Several doctors, Imbert said, were given government scholarships under the PNM administration to study forensic pathology. Imbert questioned the rationale behind placing the Forensic Science Centre under the purview of the Justice Ministry.
“I don’t understand the thinking behind that. The centre deals directly with matters relating to criminal investigations. It was under the National Security Ministry and it was suddenly moved to the Justice Ministry. “Leaving it under the National Security Ministry would have been more appropriate. I think it was moved to the Justice Ministry simply because that ministry needed something to do.”
Justice Minister Christlyn Moore has maintained there is no problem at the centre. She is expected to give a detailed statement today to clarify several issues, including the qualifications of local forensic pathologists.
In July 1998, High Court judge Herbert Volney directed a nine-member jury to return a not-guilty verdict in favour of Boyce, who was on trial for unlawfully killing 19-year-old Jason Johnson in 1996. The judge took the decision after he agreed to withdraw the evidence of forensic pathologist Dr Hughvon des Vignes, ruling that in the absence of the doctor’s testimony there was no other evidence in the case relating to the cause of Johnson’s death.
Using provisions of Section 65 of the Supreme Court of Judicature Act, the DPP appealed Volney's decision, claiming the judge had committed an error in law, and sought to have Boyce face a retrial. The Appeal Court, comprising Justices Satnarine Sharma, Lionel Jones and Rolston Nelson, on November 30, 2001, declared that particular section of the act unconstitutional and dismissed the State's appeal.
In 2002, the DPP went to the Privy Council and five British law lords heard arguments in the case. The Privy Council ruled Volney was wrong when he told a jury to return a not-guilty verdict. It also noted that Volney, of his own motion, recalled des Vignes to ask him about his qualifications in forensic pathology.
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