AbstractForensic medicine as a practice in Saudi Arabia cannot be judged by what we see on American television. It is unique in the world pertaining to medicolegal death investigations. As with many practices in the Arab world, it is conducted by tradition and law under rules set forth by Islam and its societal governing by Sharia law. Its practice then is doctrine, as opposed to the Western countries, which view the practice as a purely scientific activity. It is also different in some respects from other Islamic countries because of differences in judicial systems. An analysis of the practice in Saudi Arabia presents an interesting snap shot of a society governed by modern technology but restricted by religious and social custom.
Setup and Governmental Departments
The organizational configuration of the forensic path in Saudi Arabis suggests a governmental system of checks and balances under the auspices of the Ministry of Health (MOH) and its regional agencies. It is concerned with the physical aspects of forensics as portrayed dramatically on such shows as CSI. Intrusive medical examination and autopsy often focuses on cases of sexual assault and bodily injuries. Specialized independent laboratories are funded by MOH; DNA labs and other departments of forensic science fall under the Ministry of Interior and its sub-division, the Administration of Criminal Evidences. Crime scene investigators share their findings with investigators attached to this department. (Madani, Kharoshah,, Zaki,, Galeb, Al Moghannam and Moulana, 2012, 147)
Almutairi (2013) in his research into forensic crime scene investigation science practices in KSA also examines the policies and laws that govern investigations, which, through an increased awareness of the importance of forensic evidence, advanced from 1980 to the late 90s to DNA analysis, a huge leap forward. Forensic laboratories are run by a qualified staff with degrees in among other areas chemistry and physics, with certificates of completion in specialized forensic training. Differing from most western cultures, most forensic examiners are also police officials. From a western perspective this may not sit well in terms of possible alteration of evidence by law enforcement which may not always be seeking objectivity. The addition over time of more refined system of criminal justice agencies and information sharing has similarly refined the KSA forensic system into a well-oiled machine capable of passing on information relevant to prosecutions. Such accurate information and evidence sharing prior to 1980 would have been impossible, or at best, faulty. Today, ever practice to keep forensic evidence pure and uncontaminated is employed, along with a logical chain of possession. (103-104)
According to Almutairi (2013), every effort is made to avoid contamination, including quality control measures in transport and handling in labs, which have proliferated throughout the country with the advent of modern techniques. Measures to ensure effective quality control and to avoid contamination include regular cleaning of laboratories equipped with air purification systems and operators with protective clothing. All who come in contact with samples must be registered; all handling of samples recorded and marked with ID numbers to avoid confusion and possible dispute over evidence at trial. (111)
Influence of Islamic Law
Almutairi (2013) concludes that ôWhile the standards of fairness have been incorporated into KSA laws, they are not equivalent to the Western and international laws due to the effect of religious and cultural issuesàforensic science practices in the KSA are satisfactorily fair according to Sharia law and the countryÆs prevailing culture, but have shortcomings when judged by external standards.ö (116-117)
An example of Sharia law influence on forensics comes from Al-Murjan and Xynos (2008) regarding a computer hacking case. In forensic preparation prosecutorial proceedings were hampered by the fact that [forensic] guidelines for illegal hacking ôdo not consider the requirement of Islamic law for admissible evidence at an organizational level.ö In fact, the entire accepted procedures of evidence processing might in fact go against Sharia law if general international accepted standards of practice are followed. Problem is, in the modern era it is difficult to apply Sharia law to such cases and might leave an Islamic court open to suits. Since the laws of Saudi Arabia are always applicable to Sharia law, forensic investigators often find themselves in a quandary regarding legal requirements pertaining to evidence in unusual cases such as digital crimes. The case is a textbook example of ôhow technical (ad hoc) process of collecting e-evidence, which has been followed at an organisational level by network forensic investigators and the main principle of forensic procedure in Saudi Arabia, may fall victim to the religious law.
Given what is known about the professional and scientific progress Saudi Arabia has made in the area of forensics pertaining to crime scenes, we should assume that the nation, while not meeting international standards in all cases, is quite advanced in its process of evidence gathering and analysis. However, the prospect of Sharia law intervening in any case must also be considered. As such, the process will always be tainted by rules and policies that may prohibit both evidence gathering, processing, and its admissibility on a legal level.
- Al-Murjan, A & Xynos, K. (2008) Network forensic investigation of internal misuse/crime in Saudi Arabia: A hacking case. Proceedings on the Conference on Digital Forensics, Security and Law. http://proceedings.adfsl.org/index.php/CDFSL/article/view/119
- Almutairi, S. (2013) Forensic science services in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia: Achievements and challenges. Law and Justice Review, Vol IV, Issue 1.
- Madani, A Kharoshah MA, Zaki MK, Galeb SS, Al Moghannam SA, Moulana AA (2012) Origin and development of forensic medicine in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia..American Journal Forensic Medicine Pathology Vol 33:2,147-51. doi: 10.1097/PAF.0b013e318221b895.