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  • Introduction to pathology
  • Scope 
  • Areas requiring pathology
  • Role Pathology in India
  • Admissibility and Application of Pathology in India
  • Key milestones
  • Challenges faced by forensic Pathology in India
  • Pathology in India v. Pathology in Other Countries
  • Impact
  • Conclusion


Forensic pathology is a distinct area of medicine that revolves around the investigation of deaths, particularly those that sudden, unexpected, or violent. This discipline’s primary aim is to determine the cause and manner of deaths by way of identifying any and every injury, disease, or toxicological factors which may contributed to the death and provide valuable insights for criminal case investigations and the subsequent administration of justice. For deaths wherein the cause is brought into question, autopsies are performed by forensic pathologists. They scrutinize internal and external injuries, organs, tissues, and fluids in the post-mortem examinations to help determine the cause of death and whether it was natural, suicide, homicide, or accident. 

This distinction provided by forensic pathologists, aids law enforcement in narrowing down the circumstances, timelines, and suspects during an investigation. Vital disciplines such as suspicious DNA analysis, fingerprint analysis, pathology, and toxicology help link the crime to the perpetrators. The broad field of forensic science is pivotal for the legal realm and criminal investigations. The meticulous investigation and expert courtroom testimonies of the forensic pathologists aid the unravelling of mysterious and/or unnatural deaths and help uphold justice and maintain societal order. 


In the realm of criminal investigations, pathology serves an essential function by conducting detailed autopsies and forensic analyses. While the manner of death pertains to the circumstances surrounding the death, such as homicide, suicide, accidental, or natural causes, the cause of death refers to the medical condition or injury that resulted in the person’s demise. 

The employment of a diverse range of technologies and techniques by pathologists assists investigations significantly. They utilize advanced imagining techniques such as X-Rays, CT scans, and Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scans to detect and document injuries, fractures, and other similar abnormalities which might not be readily visible to the naked eye. The most significant tool used to ascertain the cause and manner of an individual’s death is an autopsy. Pathologists thoroughly examine the body for signs of trauma, disease, or injury during autopsies and may collect samples for toxicology and other laboratory tests for determination of the cause of death which serves as evidence for criminal investigations. 

Pathologists work in close collaboration with law enforcement agencies to help solve crime. Every procedure involved helps forensic specialists and subsequently investigators to construct a timeline and sequence of events which may have led to the person’s death. Furthermore, pathologists sometimes also have to team up with medical examiners or coroners to identify the victims of crimes or accidents, and thereby provide crucial information to aid the investigation. The crime scene data and witness statements are analysed with the help of forensic experts in areas such as ballistics, entomology, and anthropology to piece together a comprehensive understanding of the circumstances surrounding the death. This collaborative approach enables a multidisciplinary evaluation of evidence and enhances the accuracy and reliability of forensic conclusions. Such evidence is pivotal during criminal trials and civil lawsuits whereby the pathologists testify in courts of law and explain their findings to the judge.


1.    Investigation and Analysis of Crime Scenes-

Forensic science begins at the crime scene itself. Skilled professionals undertake a systematic and comprehensive examination under controlled conditions. They meticulously identify, document, and collect physical evidence including bloodstains, fingerprints, firearms, items of clothing, fibres, and other related or relevant items. They interpret the environment and analyse the spatial arrangement of evidence. It is then followed by a reconstruction of the sequence of events by the experts that culminated in the crime in question. This meticulous process is essential for establishing the foundational framework of the investigation. 

2.    Collection and Preservation of Evidence-

Established methodologies are carefully adhered to as it is essential for procuring and protecting evidence. Each and every evidence is handled by the forensic experts with the utmost care so as to prevent degradation, contaminations, or tampering. The evidence the goes through a thorough documentation, labelling, and tracking to maintain the integrity and reliability for demonstration in the judicial proceedings. This unabating chain of custody is maintained rigorously to ensure that the evidence is securely transferred from the crime scene to the laboratory, and eventually to the courtroom. This process ensures an accurate analysis and presentation of evidence during legal proceedings, and thereby supports the pursuit of justice and safeguarding of human rights. 

3.    Laboratory Analysis-

Once the evidence has been accumulated, an intense approach to laboratory analysis takes place. The various fields within forensic science, such as DNA analysis, ballistics, digital forensics, and toxicology are embraced and have begun to have an impact. Progressive instruments and techniques are adopted by experts to examine evidence thoroughly. For example, DNA profiling helps establish a connection between suspects, victims, or crime locations. Whereas toxicology examination perceives the occurrence of drugs or toxins in the body. 

4.    Unveiling digital evidence-

Digital evidence has acquired paramount importance during criminal investigations in the contemporary world. Digital footprints are increasingly left behind at the crime scenes by perpetrators, which is where forensic science steps in. It plays a crucial role in unveiling the intricacies of digital evidence. Forensic specialists utilize their knowledge and skills and adeptly navigate the digital domain. Innovative and advanced techniques and state of the art tools are employed by forensic experts to extract, examine, and analyse the electronic evidence left behind by the perpetrators. 

5.    Fingerprint Examination-

Each individual has a unique pattern on the ridges of their fingertips which creates a distinct fingerprint for every person. Fingerprints is one of the examples of evidence left behind by the perpetrator. Latent fingerprints found at the crime scene are extracted by forensic experts and then compared with the fingerprints in the stored databases. The results help establish a link between the crime and the potential suspects. This process has proven to be vital in several cases, forming a powerful link between the crime scenes and individuals. 

6.    Forensic Anthropology-

Finding out the cause of death forms the foundation for criminal investigations. Pathologists identify and examine the injuries on the human residue, specially in cases where decomposition has occurred. They analyse the skeletal remains to determine various factors such as age, sex, ancestry, and possible causes of death. This knowledge aids in identifying victims and reconstructing the circumstances of their demise. 

7.    Decoding Firearm Evidence-

When it comes fire-arm related crimes, ballistic evidence plays a major role in its investigation. It involves the careful examination of bullets, cartridge casings, and the unique patterns they create. This procedure of extraction of ballistic evidence comprises of the application of scientific principles and advanced methods, decoding subtle clues and unwinding the more complex firearm-related incidents. With the help of ballistic evidence, it gets easier to achieve a more comprehensive understanding of the crime scene. 

8.    Crime Scene Reconstruction-

In order to connect the dots and narrow down the potential perpetrators, it is essential to find out the circumstances leading to the crime in question. Examinations and procedures carried out by pathologists and forensic experts provide the law enforcement with information and evidence which enables them to reconstruct the circumstances of the crime scene. Once the mechanisms involved in the crime are identified by the investigators, they are able to narrow down potential suspects and their possible motives. Pathology and forensic sciences facilitate investigators and legal experts in developing a logical narrative for the judicial process. 

9.    Expert Witness Testimony

The testimonies of expert witnesses such as pathologists and forensic scientists, play a significant role in judicial proceedings. The complexities of scientific concepts are comprehended by these specialists who then use their knowledge and rigorous training to explain the evidence extracted and studied by them to the judges. Their scientific expertise in the area brings accurate and informative opinions which helps ensure that the intricate forensic investigations are understood by those tasked with delivering legal decisions. 


The use of science and technology to detect and carry out investigations is not new. It can be traced back to Kautilya’s Arthashastra. Indians have long recognized the idiosyncratic nature of handprints, which were used as signatures for illiterate individuals in India. Some even considered it a ritual until it was proven that it was infallible to find criminals through their fingerprints. 

To support forensic investigations, several laboratories and bureaus were set up. The Chemical Examiner’s Laboratory in Madras was founded in 1849. The establishment focused on isolating, detecting, and assessing the various venoms in the human body. In the 19th century, the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) and the Anthropometric Bureaus were created for the maintenance of anthropometric records of criminals. In 1897, the world’s first fingerprint bureau was founded in Calcutta. 

A serology department, a footprint section, a ballistic laboratory, and a state forensic science laboratory were among the various specialized units established to advance forensic investigations. 

Since then, forensic Pathology has contributed significantly to criminal investigations in India by determining the cause and manner of death, providing essential evidence for adjudication, and assisting law enforcement agencies. It is the post mortem examinations which provide the relevant and vital information in comprehensive documentation which are available for other pathologists to review. 

One of the most noteworthy evolutions in forensic pathology in India is the increasing relevance of forensic medicine in cases of rape. In the modern day, approaches like DNA fingerprinting, is used to establish a link between the perpetrator’s sperm, blood, and hair to the victims’ bodies. The connection aids the identification of both the perpetrators and victims. Additionally, forensic odontology – a branch of forensic pathology – has played a pivotal role in providing crucial evidence in criminal cases which had resulted in death. For instance, in the Delhi Gang Rape case, dental forensics helped creating a link between the accused and the crime through bite marks analysis. 

Pathology has also expanded itself to encompass several other scientific disciplines such as criminalistics, engineering, DNA profiling, and digital sciences. The integration of the multidisciplinary approach has enhanced the comprehensive analysis of the evidence in criminal, civil, legislative, and social contexts. The incorporation of this myriad of disciplines, forensic pathology has greatly improved its capacity to tackle legal challenges and deliver essential information. 


Statutes and Laws which deal with forensic pathology are as follows- 

The Indian Evidence Act, 1872: 

  • Section 45 - The provision deals with the role of expert opinions in a court of law. When there is a need for the court to develop an opinion on a point of foreign law, science, art, or the identity of handwriting, the courts rely on skilled experts with technical and field expertise relevant to the case whenever it deems necessary. The significance of ‘expert opinion’ was dealt with in the case of Dolgobinda Paricha v. Nirmal Charan Misra. 
  • Section 46 - This section lays down that facts otherwise not relevant becomes relevant if they are in support or if the facts are inconsistent with the opinion of the experts. It is paramount that the opinion of such experts should be relevant. 

The Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973:  

  • Section 53(i): The accused may be examined by a medical practitioner at the request of a police officer using reasonable force. 
  • Section 53(ii): In the occurrence of a female having to be examined, the examination has to be conducted exclusively by or under the supervision of a female registered medical practitioner. 
  • Section 54: A person, at his request to find evidence in his favour, may be examined by a medical practitioner. 
  • Section 174: Under this section, it is mandatory for the police to investigate and report cases of suicide, among other incidents. 
  • Section 176: This section provides for a magistrate’s inquiry into the cause of death. 

The Indian Medical Council Act, 1956:

  • Section 20(A): It deals with the matter of professional conduct of medical practitioners. The Council sets standards for professional conduct and etiquette for medical practitioners, along with a code of ethics. These provisions apply despite any other existing legislation. 

The DNA Technology Regulation Bill, 2019: 

DNA is the genetic material which distinguishes individuals from one another, except in the case of identical twins. Each individual’s DNA molecules differ from one another, making it one of the most effective methods of identification. 

This bill was introduced by the Department of Biotechnology, in response to the suggestion in the 271st Law Commission Report. Although the Bill was passed in the Lok Sabha, it lapsed in the Rajya Sabha due to the lack of support. The Bill aims to regulate the use and application of DNA Technology for the purposes of establishing the identity of certain categories of persons, such as victims, offenders, suspects, under trial individuals, missing persons, and unidentified deceased persons. Additionally, it addresses the matters related and incidental to it. 

However, the obtaining and collecting biological information of an individual without agreement is considered a breach of the right privacy, guaranteed by Article 21 of the Constitution of India. Another factor of the Bill which is criticised is the lack of data protection legislation. The Bill’s passage could result in a massive risk of data hacking and data misuse. An additional criticism this Bill faced was that collecting and exploiting a defendant’s DNA data without his consent amounts to self-incrimination, prohibited under Article 20(3) of the Indian Constitution. Despite the Bill’s intention to aid the criminal investigations and administration of justice in India, it fell short on addressing several fundamental issues.


  1. Historical Forensic Identification: The earliest recorded instance of forensic identification in India dates back to 1193 when Jai Chand, a prominent Indian Monarch, was destroyed by Muhammad’s army. This event marked the beginning of forensic identification practices in the country. 
  2. Rajiv Gandhi Assassination case: In the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi in 1991, forensic pathology played a vital role in identifying the human bomb responsible. The remains were meticulously examined and analysed by forensic experts, using DNA Evidence and reconstruction of the crime scene to form a connection between Dhanu, the suicide bomber, and the crime. 
  3. Veerappan Identity Confirmation: The notorious sandalwood smuggler Veerappan was identified based on the uniqueness of the structure of his external ear by Pathologists. Despite the absence of his distinctive handlebar moustache, this method proved to be effective, showcasing the importance of forensic pathology in confirming identities. 
  4. Role in the Delhi Gang Rape Case: In the Delhi Gang Rape case, it was the use of forensic dentistry that led to the confirmation of the link between the perpetrators and the crime. It was a demonstration of the significant application of forensic pathology in criminal prosecutions in India. 

The above mentioned milestones underscore the advancement and significance of forensic pathology in India, illustrating its evolution from historical identification practices to contemporary criminal investigations and legal proceedings. 


The Nirbhaya Gang Rape Case (2012, Delhi):

In a landmark development in the history of criminal prosecution in India, dental forensics played a significant role in providing evidence and securing death sentences for the accused in the Delhi Gang rape case. The forensic dentist compared the arrangement of the teeth with the bite mark found on the victim. Through the meticulous comparison of the dental structures and the bite mark photographs, the dentist was able to conclude, with high accuracy, that the dentition of the 2 accused corresponded with the bite marks on the victim, establishing their involvement in the crime. 

This case highlighted the unique individuality of dental anatomy, stressing that no 2 persons will have a similar arrangement of teeth. 

Vasu v. Santha (1975, Kerala):

The Kerala High Court laid down several standards regarding the admissibility and use of DNA tests to establish parentage. It held that courts in India cannot order blood tests as a matter of routine and must ensure the specificity in petitions and rejecting requests which are aimed at conducting an inquiry without a clear basis. It was held that the husband must convincingly demonstrate non-access to rebut the presumption of legitimacy under section 112 of the Indian Evidence Act. Additionally, the High Court also opined that the courts must consider the potential social repercussions, including the stigma of the illegitimacy of the child and the unchastity of the mother, prior to ordering a blood test. Participation in these tests must be voluntary and individuals cannot be coerced into providing blood samples. Although these tests are useful in resolving paternity issues, if an individual refuses to participate in these tests, no negative inferences can be drawn from the refusal. 

The Tandoor Murder Case (1995, Delhi):

In July 1995, a woman (Naina Sahni) was killed by her husband who suspected of having an extra-marital affair. The husband (Sushil Sharma), shot her three times then drove his wife’s body to a restaurant where he attempted to burn her in a tandoor with the restaurant manager’s help. 

The police recovered Sharma’s revolver and blood-stained clothes and sent it to the Lodhi Road Forensic Laboratory. As per the lab reports, the blood stains preserved by the forensic experts during the post mortem and the blood stains on 2 leads taken from the head and neck of the body of the deceased were of ‘B’ blood group. The findings of the DNA reports confirmed that the burnt body belonged to Naina Sahni, the biological offspring of Mr. Harbajan Singh and Jaswant Kaur. Sharma was convicted for murder by the Trial Court, Delhi High Court, and the Supreme Court.  

Adil Khatri v. State of Maharashtra & Anr (2019):

A writ petition was filed before the High Court of Bombay, which sought specific directions on post mortem examinations in cases involving deceased female victims. The High Court took cognisance of that the fact the post mortems were often performed by untrained ‘safai karamcharis’ (cleaning staff), and the doctors would merely sign off the final report. Acknowledging the gravity of this issue, the Court mandated that the post mortem examinations be conducted by forensic pathologists. It underscored the need for implementing a system to ensure that only qualified pathologists conduct these examinations. 


Despite the early advancements, noteworthy progress has been lacking in forensic pathology. As a consequence, many criminals have been acquitted because of the limitations in the effective application of forensic science at the time of adjudication. Some of the factors holding back the progress are: 

  1. Lack of Regulations and standardization - There are inconsistencies in practices and findings across various jurisdictions as result of lack of standardized protocols and training for forensics. Currently, forensic pathology practices lack regulation in India.
  2. Workload and budgetary constraints- Due to a shortage of qualified professionals in the field of pathology there's an aggravation in a cursory conduct of investigations and analyses. This problem is backed by a heavy workload and budgetary constraints.
  3. Emotional challenges - Forensic pathologists have to deal with death and trauma on a regular basis which naturally impacts their mental and emotional health. Therefore, maintaining objectivity and looking after oneself may turn into a hefty challenge while working on difficult cases.
  4. Testifying as Expert Witnesses - The legal system is not well versed in medical terminologies, therefore, testifying as expert witnesses in court can be demanding. Forensic pathologists need to defend their findings against legal challenges, such as admissibility of evidence, or explain elaborate medical terms to judges and juries.
  5. Technological Limitations - Although there are revolutionary technological advancements in medicine which is improving forensic pathology, a lot of Indian forensic pathologists cannot access the latest technology and equipment because of budgetary limitations or lack of training.


According to a 2010 article, "The Presence of Iran and its Counterparts in Pathology and Forensic Medicine from 1996 to 2010", India ranks number 10 regarding pathology and forensic medicine. The developed countries had established well before the South Asia commenced, so their pace of development has been considerably slow and has evolved differently. "In effect, South Asian countries follow an ‘integrated service’ system, whilst Japan and the USA practice ‘divided service’ systems to provide forensic medical services." says an article Forensic Medicine in South Asia: Comparison to the Developed Countries.

 India and many other South Asian countries share a deep geopolitical and cultural history along with their developmental stage in health care and forensics. In the divided service system used by more developed countries, there are separate forensic medical practitioners: the ones who handle clinical forensic medicine and the ones who handle forensic pathology services. While in countries like India, the integrated service system is used where the medical professional performs both clinical forensic medicine and forensic pathology services. There are inconsistencies in pathological practices and findings across jurisdictions in India because there are no proper guidelines for standard and regulatory frameworks.  Forensic pathologists often do not even visit the scene of crime in this country, they do not get first-hand experience to make better judgments. Whereas in other countries pathologists are mandated to visit the scene of crime and collect evidence.

The latest technologies are easily available in first-world countries, whether it is a newly launched video game or advanced medical equipment. India does not fall under that umbrella. Budget not only restricts access to the latest technology but also good research. There is more funding in the developed countries for medical researchers, therefore access to more proven and falsified reports is easy when compared to India, which hinders India's development in the field. In a legal system, there is always a chance of the admissibility of evidence which acts like a blockade for forensic pathologists. The legal systems and procedures can also influence their practice, this may vary between India and other countries.


The use of Forensic pathology has influenced public perception of crime and punishment to a great extent by providing scientific evidence and expert testimony to support the administration of justice. Some key impacts encompass of:

1.    Increased trust in the Indian Judiciary-

The use of scientific methods such as DNA analysis and reconstruction of crime scenes, has proven to be instrumental in convicting the guilty and exonerating the innocent. This has bolstered public confidence in the criminal justice system’s capacity to provide just and precise verdicts. 

2.    Deterrence of Criminal Behaviour-

Potential offenders are often deterred by the effective prosecution of criminals with the help of forensic evidence. They become conscious of the higher risk of being apprehended and convicted. This has fostered the belief that crime is more rigorously punished. 

3.    Closure for victims-

Victim(s)’ families get the much needed sense of closure when Pathology determines the cause and manner of death(s) and identifies the perpetrators. This has been particularly important in high profile cases that have drawn significant public attention. 

4.    Advancement of Justice-

In the advancement of administration of justice, Forensic Pathology has played an instrumental role. It provides objective and scientific evidence robust enough to withstand legal scrutiny. This has helped in ensuring that the guilty are held accountable and the innocent are protected from the wrongful conviction. 

However, challenges persist, including the lack of regulation and standardization in the practices of forensic pathology in India. Continued development and integration of the best practices are essential to further amplify public trust and improve the effectiveness of the criminal justice system. 


In pursuit of justice, forensic pathology has emerged to be one of the foremost tools, integrating scientific principles with investigative procedures to solve crimes, exonerate the innocent and hold the guilty accountable. The role played by pathologists is a crucial one as they are the ones during a criminal investigation who conduct autopsies for determination of cause and manner of death, analyse evidence to acquit the innocent, and punish the guilty. 

The evolution of forensic pathology in India represents a movement towards more specialized and technologically advanced practices.  Forensic Pathologists are indispensable during criminal investigations as they are the ones who conduct autopsies to determine the causes of death and analyse evidence to identify to form an association between the crime and the perpetrator. The seamless incorporation of pathology into the Indian legal framework ensures thorough support for both investigators and judges, bolstering confidence in judicial decisions. While there persist challenges such as the need for standardization and regulatory frameworks, the continued development of forensic pathology is essential for strengthening public trust and efficacy of the justice system. 


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