Cape Town - Competence, common sense, and competitive wages are all that is needed to vastly improve the performance of the state's forensic laboratories, forensic expert David Klatzow said on Wednesday.
“Remove incompetent people. They need to be sorted out and fired and sent off to do something more useful,” he told journalists at the Cape Town Press Club.
Klatzow was responding to a question on what needed to be done to rescue the laboratories, which have been heavily criticised in recent years for the length of time they take to process evidence.
“You need to make certain people pass a minimum standard test to get in there. And you need to make sure salaries are properly paid, so that anybody half decent is not immediately poached by industry,” he said.
“And you need to use common sense, and... employ people who are competent, and not people who meet whatever crazy criterion this country requires.”
Klatzow said his new book “Justice Denied” was aimed at “alerting you to the problems that occur in forensic science”.
It examined major forensic disasters and miscarriages of justice, ranging in scope from the infamous Dr Crippen case of 19th century England, to the dingo-baby trial in Australia, to the unsolved 2005 murder of Stellenbosch student Inge Lotz.
Klatzow had harsh words about local police forensic investigators who had been at some of South Africa's major crime scenes over the past decade.
“I've just written a book, but I can't match the book written by the police. It's called 'How to screw-up a crime scene without trying'.”
Klatzow referred to the case involving Brett Kebble, the mining magnate who was found shot dead in his car in Johannesburg in 2005.
“I've never had the misfortune to come across a worse-handled crime scene.”
On the investigation into the death of student Inge Lotz, he said the crime scene had been badly compromised by police officials walking all over it.
“So you'd think the cops would say, okay, we've already screwed up two high-profile crime scenes... let's get the next one right. And then along comes the Oscar Pistorius case...”
Defence and State lawyers delivered their final arguments in Pistorius's murder trial on Thursday and Friday, after which Judge Thokozile Masipa said she would hand down judgment in the matter on September 11.
Pistorius was charged with premeditated murder following the fatal shooting of his girlfriend model and law-graduate Reeva Steenkamp.
He shot her through a locked toilet door at his Pretoria home on Valentine's Day last year. He claimed he mistook her for an intruder.
On the state forensic laboratories, Klatzow said they were a complete mess.
“We've got the state powers-that-be appointing people on the basis of skin colour, on the basis of their black pigment, rather than their grey cells. And that's a mistake... Demographics is less important than ability.”
He said it now took two years to get a drunk driver's blood sample analysed. Working out if someone had been murdered could take much longer.
“If the post mortem that is done on the body of somebody who is recently deceased requires toxicology... it can take between six and eight years, and when it comes back it's wrong.”
Klatzow then joked: “Let me tell you... if you have a spouse to knock off, now is the time to do it. But use poison, don't shoot them. Because by the time it gets to court, the judge and witnesses will all be dead.”