UNODC supports forensic science services in The Gambia

06-12-2021 - Banjul, The Gambia

Striving for a future of peace, stability and the rule of law, The Gambia’s government is pursuing democratic reform, focusing on national reconciliation, human rights, transitional justice and security.

It is recognized that many people in The Gambia lack confidence in security actors, including the armed forces and police, and that security sector reform (SSR) is needed in defense, police, justice, corrections, the judiciary, border management and customs. The objectives of SSR in The Gambia largely focus on improving service delivery, enhancing local ownership, and ensuring the accountability of security sector institutions.

The availability and use of quality forensic science services, data and trends is an essential element supporting the operational work of law enforcement, effective and fair criminal justice systems, and evidence-based policymaking.

There is an urgent need to reinforce forensic science capabilities of the Gambian authorities. Particularly since forensic science enables the analysis of new substances while providing objective evidence in support to fair and transparent criminal justice systems. Indeed, minimum stand-alone forensic services are paramount to strongly enhance the forensic skills of front-line law enforcement officers and forensic laboratory personnel, from the Gambia Police Force (GPF) and the Drug Law Enforcement Agency of the Gambia (DLEAG).

In 2019, a program to support forensic services in The Gambia was developed and implemented (XAWK36). This first phase was to initially concentrate on the recovery of evidence by improving the Crime Scene Investigation (CSI) teams.

Building on the success of this previous program, UNODC ROSEN organized, between October and December 2021, a series of workshops within the framework of the "Assistance to the ECOWAS and to Member States in West Africa for the Development and Implementation of Drug Control and Crime Prevention Strategies (XAMU50)” project, financed by the Federal Republic of Germany.

The objective was to consolidate the achievements of 2019 and to broaden of the scope of intervention of DLEAG and GPF in forensic services. A total of 6 workshops were held on crime scene investigation, collection and analysis of fingerprints and collection and use of crime statistics. Indeed, once effectively recovered from crime scenes, forensic samples need to be processed in line with recognized standards of analysis and if appropriate searched against databases of known offenders particularly in the case of fingerprint samples.

These capacity-building activities resulted in official endorsement by the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of the Interior, the Judiciary, the GPF and the DLEAG of the first suite of Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for Crime Scene Investigation and Drug Analysis as well as a Handbook for crime scene investigators.

 Official signing ceremony of the SOPs in the presence of the local press  

Considerable thought, attention and commitment has gone into this important work by all law enforcement agencies in The Gambia, with the support of experts deployed by UNODC. 

The introduction of standard operating procedures into the workplace of the GPF and DLEAG officers has many benefits, as these documents will provide clear guidance to everyone involved in crime scene activities at each stage of the process.

Indeed, SOPs significantly improve the quality of evidence which will increase the likelihood of securing a conviction and reduce the opportunity for forensic evidence to be challenged in court.

SOPs also support the training of new staff as each activity of the Crime Scene process is clearly documented in a consistent way and will assist anyone new to this work in better understanding how each activity should be conducted, again reducing the likelihood of errors being made.

SOPs also support managers and supervisors when work is not being produced to the correct standard and they can quickly identify at what point the forensic process has failed to ensure that support and training is delivered in the right areas and to the right members of staff.

Finally, although these SOPs will initially support Crime Scene Investigation and Drug Analysis activities, the overall plan going forward will be to produce SOPs for the whole of the Forensic Services in The Gambia which will ensure that all staff, supervisors and managers have complete clarity in terms of how they operate. 

 More importantly, in line with SDG 16, the documents produced will be aligned to international standards and allow for the GPF and DLEAG forensic units to achieve reliable and quality forensic services which will provide addition confidence in all forensic evidence produced for criminal prosecutions, as well as increased confidence for citizens of The Gambia in terms of the professionalism of the forensic provision.

The next step is now to disseminate and monitor the use of these SOPs and the Handbook throughout the country in order to raise awareness of the importance of forensics among as many frontline officers as possible” said Dr. Amado Philip de Andrés, Regional Representative of UNODC for West and Central Africa.