'In the Maddie case the English institute took a year to make the DNA tests whilst we took only two months'
Duarte Nuno Vieira photo by Miguel Silva
Duarte Nuno Vieira, the former president of the Portuguese National Institute of Forensic Medicine [acronym INML], has left, about a month ago, the board of an institution that he spearheaded for 13 years, for feeling "hostility". He laments the way in which he was dismissed by the Justice Minister [Paula Teixeira da Cruz] and guarantees that he never increased his own salary. In the future, he will work for privates and create a Lusophone [Portuguese - Lusitano, from Latin Lusitanus of Lusitania (ancient region corresponding approximately to modern Portugal)] Human Rights Observatory.
'Forensic sciences should not be under the tutelage of the police or magistratures'
by Sónia Graça
You left the Institute on the 26 September. Why did you decide to leave?
For three reasons. Firstly, because I got invitations for extremely attractive projects which in someway would be incompatible with me staying at the institute. Then, for some of the discomfort felt in the environment that we live in the delegation in the Centre of Portugal [Coimbra], where I worked, and also for some displeasure related to an obvious hostility from some elements of the current direction in relation to my person.
What is the feeling of leaving an institution you presided for 13 years?
Some sadness and nostalgia. It means 28 years of my life. This is an institution in whose creation and development I committed myself deeply. When I got here, there was no national institute, but three (one in Porto, another in Coimbra and another one in Lisbon), all working virtually with their backs turned, and there was an almost total absence of forensic services in the rest of the country. Today the entire country is covered. I also had the pleasure of creating the medical speciality of forensic medicine and of placing it on par with the other fields.
You were removed in November, last year and accused of increasing salaries without the authorization the tutelage. Is that true?
The dispatch that ceases my duties was based only on an organic recomposition. No member of the Institute increased their own wages. Since 2007, when it was published a new organic law, we sent multiple letters to successive persons responsible at the Ministry [of Justice] alerting that there was a need for the salary of members of the governing board to be set. The law states that we were entitled to opt for the original wage plus 35%. In my case it was about 3,500 euros net wage. Because we were in a situation of manifest irregularity, we asked for an assessment to the legal department that clearly stated that this is a way to solve the problem and for us to be paid what we were entitled. I opted for the original wage like other board members did. And no overseeing body has ever censored that decision.
But did you report those adjustments to the Government?
Of course. That decision was taken still under the previous Government and was reported to them. After this Minister begun her term it was also reported to her.
Did you get a reply?
The previous Government that had ceased their secondment could no longer make a decision. From the current Government we never got a reply (which if different, could only mean increasing the wages) - not to this, nor to several other requests which were fundamental to the day-to-day management of the institution.
Is it true that you had already express your desire to leave to the Minister?
No,because the Minister never received me. However inside and outside the institute my intention was already known. Since 2012 I made repeated requests, by phone, by email and circular letters, to the chief of cabinet to have an audience with the lady Minister. In March 2013, I stated in the recorded minutes of a meeting of the governing board what my intention was, that as soon she received me I was going to request for a replacement. This, because it seemed to me that after all those years it would be wrong to resign by letter. I was finally summoned, by fax, for a hearing on November 13, when the cabinet office knew I was in Ghana, in a UN mission (between the 7 and 15). I admit that they did not inform the Minister, but the truth is that when I was summoned, I was unable to return before the 14th. In the evening of 15 November, the institute received a fax from the Ministry, signed by an advisor, communicating me of a dispatch stating my functions as president had ceased.
How did you feel?
I felt hurt, it would be hypocritical of me not to assume it. Over time, I also had to fire some people I worked with and I always did it eye to eye. Obviously the lady Minister has every right to choose with whom she prefers to work. What hurt me most were the insinuations in some media, trying to associate my departure to the wages.
After 13 years, what improved in Forensic Medicine?
A lot was improved. From the facilities and working conditions to the forensic technical procedures, to the scientific investigation, education and training. People are unaware, but when I arrived to the Forensic Medicine [30 years ago], in some cases, autopsies were made in the open-air. I still remember the counties where they were made, inside barracks in the middle of cemeteries, without running water or electricity. There was no respect for the dignity of the victims and of the experts. There were no minimal conditions, based on technical and scientific rules, of protocols or standardized models. There was no guarantee of the chain of custody, each one worked his own way, there were no regular meetings or conferences, there was no internship program ...
But the slowness of the tests is a flaw pointed out by different judicial operators.
That was a false issue some newspapers overemphasized. When I left, there were about 2% of delays in an institute that made over 180 thousand to 200 thousand forensic tests per year. This represents about four thousand forensic tests delayed. Things in Forensic Medicine don't happen like in the CSI TV series. I always give the Maddie case as an example: the Forensic Science Service, in the United Kingdom, took almost a year to make the DNA tests whilst we had the results by the end of two months.
The DNA database proved ineffective...
It was an enormous civilizational advancement. From a technical and scientific standpoint, it is an international reference. We were one of the very few databases when subjected to international inspection that was approved right the first time. From the functional point of view, it happened what I had foreseen at the time and for which I was even criticized: the law is too restrictive and does not allow to expand the database, especially since it depends on the ruling of a magistrate [judge].
Does it make any sense to have an institute and a Police Laboratory of Forensic Science (LPC)?
I defended publicly that there was no point we had a duplication of means and that there should be a single national institute of forensic science. Forensic sciences should not be under the tutelage of the police or magistratures. In fact, that is a recommendation of the American Academy of Sciences. By this I don't mean to imply that many police laboratories, including the LPC, do not work with impartiality, but this does not always happen in every country. It's not enough for Caesar's wife to be serious, it is also necessary that she appears to be...
What are you going to do now?
I will remain connected to the public service. My reference place is of being a professor in the Faculty of Medicine. I have always considered myself primarily an academic and it is that world I enjoy above all. Moreover, I will put my knowledge available to those who understand it may be useful: forensic tests for insurance companies, lawyers, victims... In international terms, I will continue as a consultant to the UN, for the International Red Cross, for Amnesty International and other organizations. Meanwhile, I was appointed as the chairman of the scientific council of the International Criminal Court Prosecutor and of the scientific board of the Association for the Prevention of Trauma and the Violation of Human Rights, that was created this year in Coimbra. I would like to found, together with other colleagues, a Lusophone Human Rights Observatory in the PALOPs to develop projects of investigation in this field. These are all Humanitarian projects, non-profit. Projects abound.
Do you feel that you are more recognized abroad?
It's an issue that does not worry me. But I was particularly heartened to have been awarded this year's Douglas Lucas Medal award, precisely because it is attributed by colleagues who are references in international forensic sciences.
in newspaper SOL, Oct. 23 2014