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A bill that will hopefully make it compulsory for all suspects and convicted criminals to provide their DNA profiles to be entered into the national database will be presented before the portfolio committee on police on Wednesday.
Through this database, offenders can be linked to previous crimes they may have committed.
Two people who hope the bill will be enacted into law are Vanessa Lynch and Rob Matthews. Lynch founded the DNA Project after the tragic murder of her father, John, in conjunction with Rob Matthews, whose daughter, Leigh, was murdered in 2004.
“We have serial offenders acting with impunity and getting away with murder. This (DNA profiling) is a phenomenal way to link offenders to the crimes at the earliest stage,” said Lynch.
“It just doesn’t make sense not to utilise this criminal intelligence tool in a country with such a high crime rate.”
Lynch said the current legislation being used to regulate this area of the law was outdated and inadequate as it had been promulgated more than 30 years ago, long before the advent of DNA profiling in the country.
“An amendment to the 1977 Criminal Procedures Act will allow for the current DNA database to be expanded to include DNA profiles of offenders. DNA profiling is a really accurate and very strong evidence, but currently you can’t take a profile from a convicted offender in SA.”
Lynch believes that DNA profiling will also help deter criminals and would-be-offenders.
“It will lead to quicker identification of serial crimes, earlier arrests, valuable intelligence, the exoneration of innocent suspects and the identification of bodies.”
The bill, she added, would also help raise awareness about the value of forensic evidence at the crime scene among the police, paramedics, (private) security companies and CPFs (Community Policing Forums).
“It will become easier for investigators to secure minute amounts of biological evidence, such as a strand of hair or drop of blood, left behind by the perpetrators to link to a crime scene. But all of that cannot happen unless we have legislation to underpin it,” she said.
Lynch is worried at the lack of political will to embrace and implement DNA profiling in SA. The UK introduced a DNA Expansion Programme with a budget allocated to it – a move that has resulted giant strides in improving their DNA profiling capacity.
“In our case, the DNA bill has been before parliament since 2008… There was a period of 20 months where they didn’t do anything. They still have to draft the second version of the bill, then table it and debate it. It’s scary.”
Matthews agreed, saying: “It’s time the government demonstrated its seriousness about fighting crime by embracing this bill. It should be an absolutely obvious thing, just (like) fingerprinting when you take your ID book and passport. Why should DNA profiling be something different?”
Lynch remains optimistic, though.
“It’s just a question of the portfolio committee deciding how it will work in SA in terms of issues such as categories of crimes, retention of different types of profiles on the database, and from whom and by whom samples will be uplifted at the time of arrest.”
If the DNA policy is accepted on Wednesday, it is expected that a second draft of the DNA bill will be drafted before it is tabled before Parliament in September .
Lynch and Matthews hope the bill will be passed before the end of the year.