Trinity School of Medicine Hosts Forensic and Law Symposium on St. Vincent

In late November, Trinity School of Medicine collaborated with St. Vincent and the Grenadines Medical Association, the St. Vincent Bar Association, and a number of other local entities, to host the second annual Forensic and the Law Symposium, specifically examining the intersection of the two titular topics. There was heavy student participation in the event, up to and including a session that better prepared and helped satisfy requirements US physicians need to provide the best possible care in instances of suspected abuse in child patients at an emergency department. In the words of Dean Adkison, “The symposium was part of three intensive days of research and discussion on campus. And while for most of our graduates, the focus will remain on patients and providing care throughout their career, the students seemed to particularly appreciate another applied field of research for their developing expertise.”

A team of professionals in the fields of medicine, forensic sciences, and the law traveled from a number of countries around North, South, and Central America to take part in the educational symposium.  Among the audience were forensic pathologists, DNA analysts, medical examiners, lawyers, police officers, clerical staff from the local constabulary, doctors, medical students, nurses, and insurance officials.

Dr. Rosalind Ambrose, President of the SVG Medical Association, explained the two-day event, “A forensic symposium like this one is an opportunity to demonstrate the intersection where law meets medicine, and where medicine meets the law.  The forensics experts fall just within the middle of that realm because they can answer questions that have a medical bearing on the carriage of justice.  We need to have this kind of marriage to let the information be shared between the professionals of these three groups: medicine, the legal, and law enforcement.”

Day One Presenters

Six presenters filled the day’s agenda.  Dr. Alfredo E. Walker began the day’s discussions.  He is a forensic pathologist and assistant professor in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at the University of Ottawa.  He spoke on two topics: “Seeking Answers to the Burning Question: Review of a Fire Death in a German Police Cell; and “The Body Recovered from Water”.  Following Dr. Walker, Dr. Stephen De Roux, assistant clinical professor, NYU School of Medicine and the State University of New York Downstate Medical Center offered his provocatively titled, ”Whiskey, Guns, and Ammo.”

Dr. Raenette David, the winner of the Prof. Errol Walrond Award in Barbados and general surgery resident at the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine, delivered the topic: “An Acquired Chiari Malformation with Cerebrospinal Fluid Rhinorrhea: A Case Report”.  This was followed by Dr. Michael Pickup, assistant professor in the Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology at the University of Toronto and adjunct professor of pathology and laboratory medicine at Western University.  He leads the Postmortem Imaging Department at the Forensic Services and Coroner’s Complex at Ontario’s state-of-the-art facility.  His topic was entitled, “The Diagnostic Utility of Post-Mortem Imaging”.

Next in line was Trinidadian, Justice Kathy-Ann Waterman-Latchoo, the high court judge on the criminal bench in the Supreme Court of Trinidad and Tobago.  Prior to her return to Trinidad and Tobago, she served for two and a half years as the Criminal Bench Judge in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.  She presented, “Lovebites and Loopholes: What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You”.

Finally, Dr. Anthony Falsetti, forensic pathologist and professor of practice at Arizona State University; with expertise in human identification, laboratory management, education, research, mass fatality recovery efforts, and forensic science quality assurance closed the day by looking at, “Mass Casualties and the Challenges of Identification”. Dr. Falsetti was also a plenary speaker at Trinity’s most recent research day.

Day Two Presenters

Day Two was similarly scheduled, with four presenters delivering on six topics. Professor Martin Evison was first. Professor Evison is director of the Northumbria University Centre for Forensic Science (NUCFS), professor of the Forensic Science Department: Applied Sciences, and current president of the Chartered Society of Forensic Sciences of the United Kingdom.  His topics were, “Forensic Science and the Criminal Justice System”; and “The Body in the Bag and the Lady in the Skip”.

Following Professor Evison was Trinidadian, Mr. Martin George, a legal expert and firm principal presenting another two topics: “Medical Negligence Litigation”; and “A Common Caribbean Cause – A Caribbean Medical Complaints Council and Advisory Board”.

Next to the present was British forensic biologist, Ms. Gillian Leak.  A co-director of Principal Forensic Services and Director of Gillian Leak- Principal Forensics Ltd., Ms. Leak held a particular passion for blood pattern analysis cases and so delivered, “Blood Pattern Analysis: The Science of the Art”, and “The Utility of a National DNA Database: The UK Experience”.

The final session of the day was undertaken by Dr. Evan Matshes of the United States, who addressed the audience via Skype.  He is the director of pediatric forensic pathology and of cardiovascular pathology for the National Autopsy Assay; and the executive director of Academic Forensic Pathology, the official publication of the National Association of Medical Examiners.  His presentations were entitled, “The Pathology of Fatal Child Abuse”, and “Non-Impact Fatal Head Injury in Infants: The Controversy of the Shaken Baby”.

Feedback and Discourse

Director of public prosecution of SVG, Mr. Colin Williams described the status of forensics in SVG.  He stated frankly, “We are still at the entry-level.  We have to start with strengthening the investigative element: gathering information to be input into the system, the first responders having new training on non-contamination of crime scenes, etc.  This is a new area of growth for St. Vincent.”

Other participants were eager to state the benefits gained from the wealth of knowledge dispelled during the two days.  Director of forensic science services in St. Lucia, Fernanda Henry, said, “Being here has been purposeful and educational.  It gave me the opportunity to refresh a lot of training in my academic career.  It also helped to strengthen my resolve to effect change, implement certain practices, and better standardize things in St. Lucia.”

A very vocal participant, Latonya Arthur, registrar and MD at the Accident and Emergency Department of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital added, “Even though it’s a forensics conference, we see a myriad of presenting complaints at our lone hospital, and I thought it would benefit my practice to attend, to better receive those patient complaints and adequately report and testify on behalf of victims in court.”  Dr. Arthur was so impressed that she vowed to bring a similar symposium to Barbados.

Wrapping Up

With all presentations and Q&A sessions completed, the activity concluded with a panel discussion on the topic, “The Death Penalty v. Life Imprisonment”.  The panel comprised Gillian Leak; Martin Evison; Samantha Robinson, local attorney-at-law and member of the Human Rights Association; and Martin George.  After a vibrant, animated discussion that moderator Dr. Walker suggested should continue in the next year’s symposium, the event concluded.

Dr. Rosalind Ambrose, president of the SVG Medical Association, thanked all for attending and expressed her eagerness toward next year’s symposium.

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