African forensic medical practitioners were educated on court proceedings in a mock trial devised by UKZN’s Centre for Socio-Legal Studies (CSLS) and the Independent Medico-Legal Unit (IMLU).

The trial was part of a month-long training course on forensic sciences and human rights for Africa organised by UKZN’s School of Laboratory Medicine and Medical Sciences, the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team (EAAF), the School of Law’s Centre for Socio-Legal Studies and the newly-formed African Society of Forensic Medicine (ASFM).

The practical course, the first of its kind in Africa, aims to strengthen the networking of practitioners on the continent.

As part of the practical training, 15 doctors from all over Africa participated in several mock exercises, including exhumations of bodies, to demonstrate the use of forensic science in the investigation of human rights violations and mass disasters. 

Independent Forensic Pathology Practitioner and part-time Forensic Medicine Lecturer in the School of Law, Dr Steve Naidoo said that it is important for forensic practitioners to be able to put theory into practice and to understand how the legal system functions.

‘These practitioners do various forensic work in their countries, but they do not all have the necessary skills of how the evidence collected is used in court. It is important for them to know how to present the evidence and to respond to the questions and the various court roles,’ said Naidoo.

The final aspect of the training saw CSLS Chairperson Professor David McQuoid-Mason coaching the doctors on lawyers’ advocacy skills, criminal law, the law of evidence, criminal procedure, case analysis and how to prepare for and conduct a mock trial involving evidence from the mock exhumation that the students had undertaken during the course.

‘I basically gave the doctors an LLB programme in two hours as I have to train them on the law and how to ask questions, conduct a cross examination and present the information they have gathered according to the rules of criminal procedure. The doctors did really well in the mock trial and understood how to interpret the evidence they gathered in a court of law,’ said Mason.

Dr Martin Nnoli, a practising forensic pathologist at Nigeria’s University of Calabar said the programme was very educational.

‘It is very important for Africa to have a unified approach when it comes to forensic science. This course is the first step towards that vision. We hope this course is sustainable and continues to create a platform for forensic practitioners to exchange knowledge and ideas,’ said Nnoli.

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