Talking to Jaya Godhwani

Maastricht

JAYA GODHWANI has pursued an interesting and different career in law. After pursuing a science and law combination degree (B.Sc. LL.B.) at KIIT University, she went on to pursue her interest in forensics and criminology at Maastricht University. After completing her Masters of Law (LLM) in Forensics, Criminology and Law in 2014, she is known working at Deloitte International in Mumbai.

In an interview with Apurva Kadian, a 4th year B.A. LL.B. student at JGLS, she speaks about her academic journey, her experience at KIIT and Maastricht Universities and shares some insightful advice for students who wish to pursue a different career path and combine their legal education with their interest in forensics and criminology. 

A CAREER IN FORENSICS & LAW

All you need to know about a Master’s degree in Forensics, Criminology and Law.

1. Why did you choose to go towards forensics after a BSc. L.L.B. degree? 

In 2006, I made up my mind to pursue law as a career when my dad made me read an article that reported Prof. N. L. Mitra’s view point with respect to BSc. LL.B. and its booming career in India. This was also supported by an interview of a girl who did her BSc. LL.B. from NLU, Jodhpur. Second page of the newspaper had some information about forensic science and its relation with law – how it is used in courtrooms, and the dilemma faced by judges with respect to its admissibility in criminal or civil cases. Those newspaper articles sparked my interest, as it was really challenging to work and gain deep knowledge in those dimensions of legal sphere which were untouched, unheard and fascinating.

Subsequently, I also interned with CFSL, New Delhi that gave me an opportunity to widen my insight in the field of forensic science and law, which in turn helped me explore various lacunas in law that clogs the use of forensic science in the adjudication of a criminal case.

2. What are the kinds of subjects that you were taught in your Masters degree? 

My Masters’ program was divided into four semesters. Each semester had 2 papers.  So, in total, I had eight papers and two presentations coupled with four research papers and a Master’s thesis. The subjects in my curriculum were Psychology and Law, Forensic psychopathology, Criminological perspectives, Organisational crime, Advanced Criminal Procedure, Criminalistics and Forensic DNA Evidence. Furthermore, I chose to write my Master thesis on ‘Admissibility of DNA evidence in the Courtrooms: Comparative Analysis between India and The Netherlands’.

3. Is there anything students can do in their undergraduate years to prepare for these subjects?

Many people in India aren’t aware about the multiple facet use of this science, especially in the legal system. I think students at undergraduate level should be introduced to forensics in law at an early stage. Students who are interested can do research or case analysis based on forensics. Furthermore, subjects like psychology, biology should also be offered as electives.

I think students at undergraduate level should be introduced to forensics in law at an early stage.

4. How did your course at Maastricht differ from the usual LL.B. courses that already offer criminology and forensics as electives?

Maastricht University offered me a much more advanced and diversified course. Apart from textual academics, they exposed me to the practical world. Elementary understanding of forensic DNA research and the problems concerning scientific evidence in criminal cases were introduced in the first semester. I remember, in our course, one of the professors actually taught us how to read the DNA reports, which I don’t think is done in any other LL.B. course in India. Criminalistics was one of the subjects that emphasized on scientific evidences in criminal cases. We were also trained in detecting DNA, fingerprints, bullets, and poison etc. during a crime scene investigation. Special emphasis was also given on DNA, on general reasoning about proof (Bayesian statistics) and problems of bias in interpreting evidence in relation to the case at hand.

4. What are the options for higher studies after doing a multi-disciplinary course like yours?

A PhD in Forensics is highly recommended, since there is lot to learn as the new technologies are evolving day by day. I, myself intend to pursue PhD in the field of Forensics and Criminal Justice in future.

There is need of forensic research worldwide, especially in India.

5. Are there any Indian universities that offer a course similar to yours?

I know Jodhpur’s National Law University offers the same kind of course although I am not aware of their curriculum.

6. What can you say about your stint in forensices that will encourage  young lawyers to explore this area?

Forensics in not a popular career choice for most. But it is the most interesting and fascinating career option. It is just not theoretical in nature but highly applicable in real life. I see it as an area in which I would love to have expertise in, hone my skills in interpretation of factual evidence, ensure justice on sound basis which involves scientifically proven facts. I find it both intellectually stimulating and humane to push the boundaries of knowledge, to apply scientific principles to decide a case, ensuring justice that all humanity can sanction.

While working with Mr. Ram Jethmalani, Senior Advocate, Supreme Court of India, I found that the Indian Judiciary often face challenges with cases that lacks well defined scientific principles, and fails to apply law in order to meet the ends of justice as The Indian Evidence Act, Criminal Procedure Code is very rigid with respect to admissibility of forensic expert witness opinion. There exist lots of discrepancy and debate in the current Indian scenario as the courts are given wide discretionary power either to take the reports into consideration or not. This eventuality of denial of justice motivated me to further study the development of more effective laws that may help our society to be more rational, responsible, and just.

What really inspired me to pursue forensics is its objectivity in legal reasoning drawn from scientific principles. The essence of it lies in the legal argument or conclusion, which is capable of being interpreted by other legal actors as reasonable, independent of personal feelings, opinions or prejudice.

Deloitte 1

CHOOSING A UNIVERSITY ABROAD

Studying at Maastricht University, Netherlands.

1. How did you choose Maastricht University for a Master’s degree? 

It is the most vital decisions in one’s life to choose the right college and program in which one wants to pursue their career. First of all, I choose Netherlands to study forensics, as it’s the first country in the world to introduce DNA legislation. I researched about the universities there, their faculties and infrastructure. I got in touch with the alumni of those universities through social networking sites, and inquired about relevant information and then shortlisted them as per my requirements. After extensive research, I decided to pursue my Masters from Maastricht University as it met all my desired criteria.

Of course, for every student, the university and the course both matters.

Maastricht University is ranked 6th among the top 100 best young universities worldwide, which made my decision more firm to pursue my Masters from Maastricht. Moreover, the master’s programme at Maastricht University in Forensics, Criminology and Law focuses on a multidisciplinary approach to crime and the administration of criminal justice. Here, one will examine criminality and the gathering of evidence from different disciplinary perspectives. They will also gain an understanding of why forensic disciplines are so relevant in legal investigation and argumentation. This multi-disciplinary approach makes the programme very interesting and unique. Therefore, the multi-disciplinary course, coupled with the University ranking, were the factor which played crucial role in deciding the right university for me.

2. Was the course at Maastricht University very intensive?

To be honest, the LLM program offered by Maastricht University was quite intense. We were given like 5000 pages of case study to read in a day’s time. However, I think one should always learn to balance things in life.

CAREER ADVICE

Deloitte Jaya1. What are the job opportunities like after doing this degree? 

In a country like India where legal education is rapidly changing, the integration of science in law is an attractive career option. As per my work experience, I feel that there is a high demand for lawyers with scientific and technological backgrounds. Since  there are not many lawyers having knowledge of both the fields, B.Sc. LL.B. (Hons.) graduates do have an advantage in the job market as they can easily work in a company or law firm or even enter litigation at any point of time.

2. What kind of internships did you do at both the Universities?

I did several internships during my undergraduation as per the curriculum of the University – 9 in total, including NGOs, Forensic Laboratory, Senior Advocates and various Law firms. In Netherlands, I worked as a student researcher for my professor and researched on Financing in Football Club from criminological perspective.

 3. What kind of internships do you recommend our students accumulate in order to be a good candidate for such interdisciplinary courses?

As far as my knowledge and experience goes, I think students should start planning their internships according to their area of interest in which they would like to pursue their respective careers. Another important aspect is early planning, which is very important to secure a good internship. I planned my internships at least 6-8 months before. This is important because you can never depend on an organization or law-firm to accommodate you instantly. Furthermore, students should also explore all kind of options in law, like litigation, clerkship under a Judge, governmental agencies, law firms, NGO etc. so that they can take rational decision and plan their choose the area of interest they actually want to pursue accordingly. During my under-graduation, I interned with an NGO, a legal practitioner, a forensic laboratory, law firms and law boutiques. This helped me figured out my interest in the field of Forensics and Intellectual Property Rights.

4. How did you get your current job in the Deloitte International Forensic Department, Mumbai? 

I applied to Deloitte in the month of February 2014 when I was studying in Maastricht.  In June 2015, I got a call from Deloitte and they offered me a post in the Forensics International Department. I was interviewed by the Head of the Forensics Department and in a week’s time, I received the confirmation letter for the same. As Deloitte is a MNC, so meeting the demands of the client from different parts of the world is the most challenging aspect in my job. Here, I have improved my research skills and gotten a fair idea about the work culture and ethics of various countries like the UK, Canada, Australia, Middle East, etc. So in future it would help me work efficiently and effectively in other countries, if the opportunity arose.

KIIT Pic5. Do have any advice for forensic scientists or forensic lawyers who are looking to work in India?

As we all know Forensics is a completely new arena in Indian society. Young budding forensic scientists or lawyers have a lot to contribute to our Indian society with respect to this particular field. Branches of forensics like Forensic Psychology, Forensics Anthropology, Computer Forensics and Forensic Accounting are untouched and unheard in many of the developing country like us.

Having said that, we should also have young minds helping in building up a specific legislation dealing with evaluation and admissibility of DNA evidence in the courtrooms, furthermore setting up uniform standards for sampling, collection and preservation of evidence. Like any other developed country, we should also get a national DNA database to solve the crimes steadily. We should also help in strengthening our country in its research base before considering implying DNA as evidence in the administration of justice. Additionally, we should help in setting up well-equipped laboratories and training of the staff.

6. In hindsight, how would you advise students to balance their hectic study routines with experiencing a new life abroad?

In legal profession, you need to be involved in socialising/networking apart from your curriculum. So yes, one needs to take out time from their respective busy schedule to socialize with their fellow-mates. During my stay in Netherlands, I organized Indian Events, like Holi, at Maastricht with the help of Dutch Municipality. My friends organized Belgium night, Greek Night, Italian Night likewise where we showcase each other our culture and I think this is the best way to learn about different cultures. So after hectic weekdays, we did organize something in the weekends, just to relax and know a bit more about each other outside the University. Therefore, exploring new things has always interest me.

7. Any advice on how to become an attractive candidate for highly competitive degrees? 

 I think one should not just focus on academics only but also on paper presentations, research papers, international conferences, organizing some of the events in the University and likewise. In today’s world, one should rather be street smart than be a book worm and you can develop this only by interacting and participating in various other activities. Therefore, read, travel and meet new people.

Education is just one of the many components that help you grow and it is much more than a means to employment. Allow it to enhance you and not stifle you.

Interview by Apurva Kadian (JGLS ’12)

Edited by Poulomi Bhadra

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