Understanding The Gait Test And Its Impact On Criminal Trials

Update: 2022-06-30 05:15 GMT

Recently, a Mumbai Special Court convicted and sentenced to death Mohan Chauhan who was accused of raping and murdering a woman in Saki Naka in 2021. The Gait analysis report was one of the pieces of evidence utilized in this case to determine guilt. Previously, the Gait analysis has been used in very few cases- for instance, its utilisation by the SIT in the Gauri Lankesh Murder Case. With the increased recognition that the method is acquiring in India, it becomes imperative to understand the relevance of the Gait Pattern Analysis. This Article seeks to analyse as to what is the Gait Pattern, its advantages and disadvantages as a form of evidence, and whether it will be beneficial for the Indian Criminal Trials in the form of evidence.

Understanding GAIT Pattern Analysis & Its Application

Gait Analysis is a form of the sub-discipline of Forensic Podiatry which requires the utilization of podiatry knowledge, concerned with the foot or footwear, and is referred to as the 'study of human locomotion'. In this, a comparison is drawn between the suspect's gait patterns and the evidence (such as footprints) available at the crime scene to facilitate personal identification. The derivation of such evidence is usually available in form of footprints (encountered in multiple crimes such as sexual assault, robbery, house-breaking, etc) that appear on the crime scene or are there in the CCTV Footage. Countries such as UK, Netherlands, and Denmark have been utilizing forensic Gait Analysis for more than 10 years, especially in cases where strong biometric clues are absent.

Gait analysis can be done both, Human-Based and/or Computer-based. Therefore, with regards to the Indian Evidence Act, the same can be covered in two sections- Section 45 and Section 65A respectively. Section 45 deals with the Opinions of the experts on impressions and it must be noted that Gait analysis being part of forensic science has to be done by an expert owing to the complex procedure involved in the determination of personal identity. Section 65A on the other hand establishes grounds for admissibility of Electronic Evidence in the Trial, which will be applicable in the case of computer-based analysis.

Critical Analysis Of Gait Test As A Form Of Evidence

Gait analysis is now acquiring increased recognition all over the World as a form of evidence for criminal trials. This pattern is highly individualistic as people are not much conscious of their walking style and thus, do not alter the same which makes it unique and integral to an individual's identity, especially in an era of increased emphasis on CCTV cameras. However, at the same time, it must also be noted that it is classified as a behavioural biometric and not a physiological biometric like that of a fingerprint. To determine the accuracy of the Gait test under such circumstances, a study was conducted by a British Gait Analyst, Ivan Birch. Seven Gait analysts were employed to review five CCTV footage, wherein both the target walker and suspect walker was made to wear similar clothes and their faces were hidden. The conclusion of the experiment displayed accuracy levels of 71% which highlighted the Gait analysis can be used by investigators to proceed in the right direction in the course of their investigation.

One major issue that is witnessed with regards to Gait analysis is that there is still no set protocol that can be used by the analysts, and therefore the methodology used by them consists of several variations resulting in subjectivity. Therefore, the methodologies such as Gait analysis that still do not have and standard procedure are to be treated with greater caution.

Canada has applied tests, used for testing the relevancy of other expert evidence as highlighted in the case of R.vs Mohan, which include- Relevance, a necessity in assisting the trier of fact, the absence of any exclusionary rule, and a properly qualified expert, to determine its admissibility. Along similar lines, the UK in Rv Luttrell has prescribed two tests that are to be utilised to analyse the admissibility of expert evidence- that the experience of the expert witness will assign its opinion an authority over the opinions of a not so qualified one and secondly, he has to be qualified enough to express an opinion. In cases such as Otway vs. The Queen and Atkin vs Atkin, standards were set that required the experts to establish their qualifications.
In 2020 the 'Code of Practise for Forensic Gait Analysis' was published by the Chartered Society of Forensic Science and the College of Podiatry. This code listed down certain facts that could be taken into consideration for a preliminary assessment during analysis however the same are not exhaustive and since there are no proper databases Gait methodologies can be compared either to determine.

It can be said that forensic gait analysis operates on probabilities over objective considerations since no set protocol has been established. Further, it goes without saying that even expert opinions have their own set of prejudice developed over a course of their practice, thus, vitiating the possibility of a neutral perspective. While countries like Canada have laid down certain criteria which can be used to test the admissibility of such evidence, the Gait Test is still dependent on the perception of the jury with regards to the methodologies adopted and the conclusion reached. Similarly, in the case of India Gait analysis will be considered under Section 45 wherein expert opinion is not binding on the court and can be contradicted. It is only considered as an opinion or advice.

However, keeping in mind the drawbacks that may be witnessed in the utilisation of this analysis one cannot underestimate the growing importance of the same. CCTV cameras find their presence in every other locality and gait analysis can help in drawing a comparison between the walking style of a person. Further, footstep marks can be very useful as they are available for every other crime scene. Therefore, the Gait test can be used to identify the suspect along with other evidence as utilisation of modern technology in criminal trials can speed up the process and also increase its efficiency. At the same time tests for establishing the admissibility of the same must be emphasised by the courts wherein admissibility is based on the rigours established for expert opinion. Therefore, Gait Test/Analysis must be given more recognition in India as a methodology that can contribute to Criminal Trials with regard to identification, and at the same time focus should also be laid down on research and development that helps in establishing a stricter protocol, as a standardised approach can help in determining the authenticity of such tests.

The author is a student at NMIMS School of Law, Mumbai. Views are personal

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