Parliament - MPs are edging closer to passing the DNA bill - a much needed tool to improve conviction rates in the country.
Deliberations on the Criminal Law (Forensic Procedures) Amendment bill - which covers the use of DNA as evidence in criminal investigations - continued in Parliament's police portfolio committee on Wednesday.
The bill has seen significant changes since it was first introduced in Parliament more than five years ago.
“The first bill that was introduced didn't take into account the human rights issues... and for that reason we felt it more important to address these human rights issues before we dealt with the bill,” committee chairwoman Annelize van Wyk said.
The first bill provided for storing DNA samples of charged persons, but was removed because it was deemed unconstitutional.
It was also seen as being open to abuse by police officers.
“It would have meant that if you had a rogue police officer and they have something against you, they could actually plant your DNA at a crime scene,” Van Wyk said.
The bill would also take into account new proposed laws including the Protection of Personal Information Bill, which was currently before a National Council of Provinces committee for approval.
MPs had also narrowed the list of offences to which the DNA bill would apply.
“We went through the schedule one offences and prioritised those that should be there, like your serious crimes, your violent crimes, your sexual crimes, treason, firearms (offences), and a couple of others as well,” said Van Wyk.
The new bill would compel criminals or suspected criminals to provide police with a DNA sample.
The samples would then be destroyed, but the DNA profiles would be stored on a database.
“DNA will be taken from arrested and charged people, from volunteers for elimination purposes, like when a crime is committed and you need to rule out suspects, you can give DNA for purposes of identifying unidentified bodies or when there is a natural disaster and you want to identify bodies, you'd be able to do so.”
MPs had also included a requirement that specific police officers be trained to obtain DNA samples.
“Even though a DNA sample and the way it is taken is not seen as an intimate way of taking a sample, it's still intruding on a person's personal space, and for that reason we want to ensure officers who are trained are trained properly according to the health standards of South Africa.”
The police committee was likely to start clause by clause voting on the proposed law next week.
Van Wyk said she was confident the bill would be passed by the National Assembly before the end of the year.