DNA database delay

Audra Mahlong
By Audra Mahlong, senior journalist
Johannesburg, 27 Mar 2009

Parliament has failed to finalise a proposed DNA Bill - raising doubts that it would be signed off by the first half of 2009.

Neil Bell, chief editor of Bills for Parliament, confirmed the status of the Criminal Law (Forensic Procedures) Amendment Bill, saying “it has not been finalised by the ad hoc committee”.

The proposed legislation would allow for the creation of an extensive DNA profiling system with the aim of strengthening the police service's crime fighting initiatives. The amendment Bill provides for the expansion of the SAPS's powers to take and retain fingerprint and DNA samples. It also allows for the establishment, administration and use of a DNA database as a criminal intelligence tool.

The profiling system would be linked to the Department of Home Affairs' Hanis system and Department of Transport's eNatis system.

Bell notes that, while the Bill will be subject to the scrutiny of the incoming ad hoc portfolio committee on the Criminal Law amendment Bill committee, it has been labelled a priority. Following its last meeting on 23 March, the committee reported the Bill still remains an important part of criminal law and that it should be prioritised by the next Parliament.

New priorities

However, cautions Bell, what the current Parliament decides does not bind the new Parliament. So while the Bill has been set as a priority by the outgoing committee - the new team will still decide on the priority given to the Bill. The status given to the Bill will depend on the new minister and committee - but they would have to be very brave to ignore it, says Bell.

The urgent nature of the Bill has been emphasised from the early stages. In the first meeting of the portfolio committee on the 20 January, deputy minister for justice Johnny de Lange made a presentation to the committee emphasising the urgency of the Bill.

But, says Bell, the process is inevitably going to slow down as the next Parliament - which will come into office after the 22 April elections - will have to decide on the importance of the Bill for itself. With the support of the DNA Project, National Prosecuting Authority, Business Against Crime, SA Human Rights Commission and Popcru - the Bill should be prioritised, he says.

Big budget

Following an inquiry into the required budget in February, the committee also reported R7.5 billion would be needed for the creation of the system - R2 billion has since been budgeted for the reference samples from private laboratories over a five-year period.

Another R3 billion had been budgeted - also over the same five-year period - to build the SAPS's crime scene and reference sample capacity. A further R2.5 billion has been budgeted for the expansion of the SAPS fingerprint database and the linking thereof with other databases.

Following amendments to the proposed Bill in February, the SAPS also indicated it would subcontract privately-owned laboratories. The SAPS also retains the right to prescribe quality, standards and the format in which information should be provided to the SAPS.

Four local and privately-operated forensic science laboratories have also indicated to Parliament that they will tender for such work. The labs said they can at the moment process approximately 600 000 samples a year, and could expand, at a cost of approximately R250-R300 per sample.

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New DNA bill to fight crime