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New DNA bill to fight crime

Read time 3min 10sec

The draft Criminal Law (Forensic Procedures) Amendment Bill 2008 will appear before Parliament early this year, aiming to introduce a national DNA database linked to the Department of Home Affairs' Hanis system and Department of Transport's eNatis system.

The Hanis system stores the fingerprints of 31 million citizens and 2.5 million foreigners, while eNatis has a record of six million fingerprints. The DNA database will include fingerprint records from both systems and is expected to become operational once the DNA Bill is passed into law.

Parliament has announced that it will be processing the Bill during the first half of 2009 and has requested that the public send comments to lilouw@justice.gov.za. The draft Bill will be finalised later this year.

Origins

In June last year, the Open Society Foundation for SA granted the DNA Project a development grant to create an organisational plan for the proposal of the DNA Bill. The DNA Project teamed up with government to develop a National DNA Criminal Intelligence Database.

The DNA Project was founded in 2004 by Vanessa Lynch after her father was murdered by armed robbers. Lynch formed the DNA Project together with Rob Matthews, whose daughter, Leigh, had been murdered.

“I received a call from the Department of Justice, advising me that the new DNA Bill had been adopted by Cabinet. I sat there, alone, and screamed out loud, as this was but a distant vision four years ago,” says Lynch.

DNA intelligence

Matthews says: “The new DNA Bill will make a significant difference to combating crime in the country. The DNA Project has created a database of criminals using the latest technology and, up until now, the process required blood to be taken from suspects for accurate evidence. But now all you need is a saliva swab. It will dramatically reduce the time taken to analyse DNA and also amounts to high cost savings.”

According to Lynch, the Bill is a milestone because, for the first time, the law will allow for DNA profiles to be immediately created for all convicted offenders. It will also allow for police officers to take DNA from arrested suspects via a saliva swab or finger prick, as opposed to medical practitioners taking blood samples and waiting months for the results.

“The Bill officially creates a national DNA database and allows for speculative searching for criminal intelligence purposes only. The enactment of this new law will serve as a deterrent for criminals and address the issues of accountability, which pose a huge issue in SA in respect of repeat crimes being committed by the same person,” says Lynch.

Outdated legislation

According to the DNA Project, the impact of DNA profiling in SA is limited due to a combination of factors such as outdated legislation, insufficient DNA profiling equipment, limited funding, embargos on processing crime stains and DNA profiles without a suspect, inadequate laboratory capacity and information systems, overwhelming caseloads and a lack of training.

“The adoption of the new Bill provides hope for the new year as it paves the way towards crime resolution, detection and prevention. But the adoption of the Bill now requires public submissions, and lots of them,” says Lynch.

Lynch believes that the adoption of the new DNA Bill will result in SA's forensic science labs processing more DNA samples and at a faster rate. This will have the consequence of a higher and more accurate conviction rate.

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