KARACHI: On Tuesday, the Sindh High Court ordered the provincial health department to encourage the holding of a meeting to finalise the standard operating procedure (SOPs) for medico-legal testing in rape cases by a newly formed 15-member medico-legal reform committee.
The committee was directed by a two-judge bench headed by Justice Mohammad Ali Mazhar to review the working paper and recommend amendments, if any, after the chairman of the committee told the bench that specific recommendations for improvising the current health medico-legal framework had already been submitted by an earlier committee.
The bench ordered the committee to file its report via the health department thus adjourning the hearing until Dec 10.
When a petition demanding the elimination of virginity tests in cases of rape came up for a hearing, Dr Faiz Mangi, chief technical officer of the provincial health department, told the bench via a statement signed by the health secretary that on Oct 19 the medico-legal reforms committee was set up by the health department.
SHC is informed that the health dept constituted the committee last month
He further stated that the 15-member committee was headed by Prof Dr Farhat Hussain Mirza, chairman of the Jinnah Sindh Medical University (JSMU) forensic department.
Dr Mirza and Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre (JPMC) additional police surgeon Dr Summaiya Tariq, also a member of the committee, appeared during Tuesday’s hearings before the bench.
They told the bench that they had already recently presented a comprehensive plan to make some changes to the medico-legal system, recommended some system enhancement amendments, and submitted a detailed paper.
The bench was further told that the committee established last month by the health department, had not yet convened.
In addition, Dr. Mirza said that they had no secretarial facility to call a conference with all the participants.
Dr. Mangi, however, indicated that if the chairman of the committee told them 10 days in advance of the conference, then all members of the committee would be informed to ensure their attendance.
At this point, Dr Summaiya argued that it was not possible to have a physical meeting due to the second wave of Covid-19 and suggested a virtual meeting.
Before convening the conference, the bench ordered the chief technical officer to provide all members of the committee with a copy of the working paper/proposal so that they could review the papers and suggest amendments as well.
After reviewing the same, Dr Mirza and Dr Summaiya would recommend a date for Zoom to convene a virtual meeting and if circumstances so permitted, the bench agreed that they should hold a physical meeting to finalise SOPs and apply the same through the health department in court.
As part of the medical examination of sexual harassment victims, Natasha Ali and other petitioners contacted the SHC alleging that medico-legal officers were administering hymen and two-finger checks.
They argued that such checks and criteria were ineffective, excessive and objectively baseless, and questioned the fundamental protections of all people, including victims of sexual attacks, and all citizens.
They urged the SHC to send directives to the departments of home and health to end two-finger tests in cases of rape, to ensure that DNA tests and German SOPs are carried out in good medical practise with respect to medical exams, prosecutions and criminal prosecution of claims of cases of sexual abuse.
The petitioner also requested advice to induce eligible female MLOs duly certified with modern medical practises for respondents.