Pained to note how poor handwriting of doctors in medico-legal reports was obstructing the administration of justice at a time when judicial system was faced with ocular testimony of interested witnesses, the Lucknow bench of Allahabad High Court has fined three doctors for writing medico-legal reports shabbily and directed Principal Secretary Home, Principal Secretary Medical and Health, Director General of Medical and Health to ensure compliance of a 2012 circular directing doctors to write clear medico-legal reports.
A bench of Justice Ajai Lamba and Justice Sanjay Harkauli said it was pained at recording in every case that the medical report is summoned for reference for effective adjudication, the handwriting of the doctor in the report is not readable.
“The doctors have been scribing medico legal report, injury report, bed head tickets, prescriptions and post-mortem examination reports in such handwriting that it cannot be read by the prosecutor, the defence lawyer or the Court. We are faced with a situation in which when the medico-legal report was summoned, counsel for none of the parties or the Court could read the report on account of the way it was written,” said the bench.
In one such case before the bench wherein the accused had sought quashing of charges of dacoity from the FIR, Dr Ashish Saxena, who had prepared the medico-legal report, had to be summoned to the court with typed copy of the injury report.
On September 12, Dr Saxena, the Emergency Medical Officer, District Hospital (male), Unnao appeared in the court and furnished an injury report of the injured.
The bench was disquieted to note that, “Other than reflecting six contusions and opinion, the report does not reflect name of the injured, father's name of the injured, age of the injured, date and time of examination of the injured and the place where the injured was examined”.
“We hereby bring on record that Dr. Ashish Saxena is not capable of doing his job properly. Substantial time of the Court has been wasted initially by not writing the medical report in clear hand and subsequently not supplying the complete medical report to the Court. We are constrained on again summoning Dr. Ashish Saxena to Court with complete medical record duly typed and countersigned by him in evidence of its correctness”.
Following this, Dr Saxena once again appeared in the court and filed an affidavit mentioning the injury report.
Here again, the bench found depiction of injuries to be deceptive.
“By depiction of such injuries, as has been done in this case, neither the prosecution would be enlightened nor the defence, or even the court. The very purpose of having a medico-legal examination report is defeated. Such misleading and confusing injury report would help the accused to take benefit of lacuna in the prosecution case. This court is pained at recording in every case that the medical report is summoned for reference for effective adjudication, the handwriting of the Doctor in the report is not readable,” the bench remarked.
The judges noted that the court faced similar issues in the year 2012 in case titled Chhabiraj vs. State of U.P. and others when the court was forced to summon Director General, Medical and Health, U.P. Lucknow.
The Director-General had then issued a circular on November 8, 2012 directing that medico-legal report shall be written in clear writing which is legible; simple words shall be used as far as possible; short/short form/abbreviation words shall not be used in the medico-legal report and that signatures, name and designation of the doctor who prepared the report shall clearly be mentioned.
The bench, in the instant case, said the circular, though issued by the senior-most officer, is being violated everyday.
Stopping short of summoning the senior officials of the department concerned, the bench said, “We are not summoning the Senior Officers in the hierarchy in the State and in the department, being sensitive to the fact that they are public servants and their services are required elsewhere, however, we are constrained on directing Principal Secretary Home, Principal Secretary Medical and Health, Director General of Medical and Health to take cognizane of this order and ensure its compliance”.
Clear medico-legal report, post-mortem report must to counter unreliable ocular testimony
The court reiterated that the relevance of the medico-legal report in cases of hurt, homicide or suicide is enormous.
“In a case of incised wound, the injury depicted in the medico-legal report/post-mortem report can clarify whether the knife was sharp on one side or both sides; the size of the blade ; the force with which the knife has been thrust in the body and the direction from which the knife has been thrust. Likewise, in blunt injuries, explanation of the injury in the medico-legal report speaks volumes about the manner in which the injury might have been caused. It assists the Court in formulating an opinion in regard to the manner in which an incident might have taken place and what penal provision to invoke.
“The judicial system is facing serious problems because ocular testimony is given only by interested witnesses. There is always an apprehension in the mind of the Court that the ocular version might be false so as to falsely implicate the accused or make the offence more serious by way of exaggerating the role of the accused. The number of accused is also increased so as to implicate the entire family/friends.
“The medico-legal report, if given clearly, can either endorse the incident as given by the eyewitnesses or can disprove the incident to a great extent. This is only possible if a detailed and clear medico-legal report is furnished by the doctors, with complete responsibility. The medical reports, however, are written in such shabby handwriting that they are not readable and decipherable by advocates or Judges. It is to be considered that the medico-legal reports and post-mortem reports are prepared to assist the persons involved in dispensation of criminal justice. If such a report is readable by medical practitioners only, it shall not serve the purpose for which it is made. This is despite the fact that computers are available in all medical facilities. In some of the States, practice is being followed where medico-legal reports and post-mortem reports are made on computers/printers,” said the bench.
Noting that the conduct of Dr Saxena in violating the 2012 circular cannot be ignored, it imposed a cost of Rs 5,000 on him to be deducted from his salary and deposited in Library Fund of Oudh Bar Association of the court.
Meanwhile, in two other cases of similar nature, doctors were imposed with fine for poor handwriting.