Exhumation refers to the process of digging out a dead body from its grave for examination, often for medicolegal purposes. This article provides instructions and guidelines regarding exhumation for medicolegal examiners in Punjab, Pakistan. The key points are:
What is Exhumation
- Exhumation means digging out a dead body from its grave and conducting a postmortem examination for various medicolegal reasons like identification, determining cause of death etc.
- It involves the body being removed from its final resting place for examination.
- It may be the first or a repeat examination of the body.
Exhumation in Forensic Science
- Exhumation refers to the process of exhuming or digging up a buried body for medicolegal examination.
- It is done when the body needs to be examined again for legal purposes like determining cause of death, collecting evidence, identifying the deceased, etc.
- Forensic pathologists and anthropologists conduct examinations on exhumed remains.
- DNA, fingerprints, dental records etc may be used for identification of the exhumed body.
- Evidence like bullets, poison, fractures etc may be recovered to determine cause of death.
- Samples are collected for toxicology, histopathology, DNA analysis etc.
- It helps in collecting evidence in criminal cases even long after burial.
- Forensic entomology studies on insects can provide estimate of postmortem interval.
- Exhumed remains are examined thoroughly externally and internally as condition permits.
- The forensic team carefully documents all findings from the exhumation.
- The forensic examiner provides expert testimony based on the exhumation findings in court.
- It aids in closure for families by confirming identity or cause of death.
- Exhumation provides an opportunity to re-evaluate unresolved cases from new forensic evidence.
Reasons for Exhumation
- It is carried out on the orders of a Magistrate under Section 176 (ii) of the Criminal Procedure Code.
- The purposes include determining the cause of death, identity of the deceased, or collecting further evidence in criminal cases.
Process of Exhumation
- It is done in the presence of a Magistrate who orders the digging up of the grave.
- The grave is identified by relatives/undertakers in the presence of the Magistrate and Medical Examiner.
- Police contingent should guard the grave and surrounding area.
- The body is handed over to the Medical Examiner for examination after removal from the grave.
- A make-shift mortuary may be set up at the graveyard for the examination.
- External and internal examination of the body is carried out thoroughly as condition permits.
- All bones are examined in detail for fractures, injuries, foreign bodies etc.
- Specimens like viscera may be preserved and sent for histopathology or toxicology.
- Visual identification of the remains should be done if possible.
- Details of clothes, shroud, coffin etc should be noted.
- Evidence of any initial autopsy should be looked for in re-examinations.
Time Limit For Exhumation
There is no specific time limit prescribed by law for conducting an exhumation. However, the viability of a useful examination decreases with time as the body decomposes. Practically, valuable information can still be obtained from bodies exhumed even several years after burial, especially if they have been interred in coffins which slow down decomposition. Bodies buried directly in the earth without coffins decompose faster. While bones may remain for decades, toxicology or histopathology examinations become unfeasible beyond 2-3 years.
DNA may be extracted from bones and teeth for much longer periods. Hence, while legally exhumation can be approved even decades after burial, the usefulness of the medicolegal examination decreases with time. It is ideal to conduct exhumations within 2-3 years of burial for most forensic evidence, unless specific bones or teeth are required for DNA analysis in identification. The Medical Examiner should be able to obtain some useful observations and conclusions despite decomposition, if the remains are exhumed within 5-10 years. Beyond this time period, the viability and evidentiary value of medicolegal examination progressively declines.
Time Limit For Exhumation in Pakistan
There is no specific legal time limit prescribed for exhumation in Pakistan. However, some guidelines can be inferred based on general practices:
- As per criminal procedure code, exhumation requires a magistrate’s order. The magistrate can approve exhumation requests on a case by case basis.
- Exhumations are more likely to be approved by magistrates within 1-2 years of burial, as decomposition is still minimal.
- Practically, useful forensic examinations can be conducted if exhumation is done within 2-3 years, especially if the body was interred in a coffin.
- For DNA evidence from teeth or bones, approvals may be given even 10-15 years after burial.
- There are instances of exhumations approved 20-30 years after burial in special cases, but decomposition affects evidence.
- Bodies buried in the ground without coffins decompose faster due to direct contact with soil. Early exhumation is preferable.
- The viability of toxicology and histopathology exams reduces rapidly beyond 2-3 years.
- Exhumations requested after 3 years usually rely on DNA analysis or skeletal examinations.
- Delayed requests for exhumation typically require strong legal justification for approval.
So while there is no defined time limit in law, magistrates generally approve exhumations within 1-3 years, unless strong forensic reasons justify later exhumation. The usefulness of evidence reduces with time.
- Valuable information can be obtained from exhumation even long after burial.
- The examination and report should be as detailed as condition of the body allows.
- It is done with utmost dignity and respect to the deceased.
- Exhumed remains are handed back to the Magistrate for re-burial after examination.