Ten months after Hena Akter died at Saphena General Hospital in a case filed with Ramna Police Station in Dhaka as an “unnatural death”, her family is still waiting for justice and closure as an autopsy report is yet to be filed.
The autopsy is a crucial part of any investigation into a death; without an analysis of markers on the body and tissue samples, the cause of death cannot be definitively identified and so police cannot even know if there is a culprit to arrest.
Ramna police station Sub-Inspector Masud Jamaddar, also investigation officer of this case, told the Dhaka Tribune that a letter had been sent to the Forensic Medicine Department of Dhaka Medical College (DMC) regarding the matter on February 12 this year, but a reply was yet to be received.
Hena Akter, from Bijoynagar upazila of Brahmanbaria, died on June 17, 2016. Her family is not the only one to be kept waiting in this stressful manner as across the 49 police stations of the Dhaka metropolitan area, 500 cases, mostly regarding unnatural deaths, remain pending as the autopsy reports were never filed.
Of the pending cases, at least 45 are more than one year old while 150 cases are more than six months old, according to DMP sources.
“Investigations constantly have to be stopped due to delays in receiving the autopsy reports,” Dhaka Metropolitan Police Joint Commissioner (crime) Krishna Pada Roy said. “As the number of outstanding cases increases, more and more plaintiffs are deprived of justice.”
The joint commissioner added that culprits were much easier to identify and far more likely to be caught if autopsy reports were filed within 72hours of the post-mortem examination, as stipulated by a government directive.
“Delays in the reports lead visible evidence to ruin, give culprits time to cover their tracks, and leave the cases almost unsolvable,” he said.
One location with a particularly large backlog is Shahbagh, with the area’s police station is sitting on over 40 pending cases. The reason for such a high number of these cases in the area is Shahbagh police station’s proximity to Dhaka Medical College Hospital (DMCH).
DMCH performs an autopsy on any patient who dies after an admittance to the hospital, such as female prisoner Beauty Begum from Madaripur, who died on January 11 last year after being transferred from the Mental Health Hospital. An unnatural death case is also filed for any deaths among the patients.
Despite these autopsies being completed, some of the autopsy reports, such as that of Beauty Begum, were never filed.
When asked about the delay in submitting autopsy reports, DMC Forensic Medicine Department Head Dr Shohel Mahmud told the Dhaka Tribune that his department was stretched.
“My department conducts 7 to 8 autopsies on an average day, not only for the hospital but also for any deaths throughout the city,” he said. “Not only do students conduct the autopsies, but they also must do academic work, prepare for exams and travel to courts to give witness statements.”
Dr Shohel added that not only was there a high workload considering the number of students, but there were also long delays in receiving the histopathology and viscera reports on tissue samples, which were sent to a chemical lab in Mohakhali for analysis. The results of viscera reports are crucial as they are often used as key evidence in trials.
Medicolegal Society of Bangladesh President Dr Selim Reza echoed the Forensic Medicine Department head’s concerns regarding workload, saying that a lack of human resource was the root of delays in submitting autopsy reports.
“If we had more manpower, it would reduce the problem,” he said.