Concern over DNA testing backlog at police lab
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Cape Town - The Department of Community Safety said it was concerned over the backlogs in the processing of DNA by the police’s forensic science laboratory and the pressure this places on service delivery, particularly in resolving rape cases.
Community Safety MEC Albert Fritz said it was his understanding that the standing committee of community safety, in terms of section 206(9) of the Constitution, would invite the acting provincial commissioner and divisional commissioner for forensic services to unpack the causes behind these delays and provide a report indicating its performance in terms of DNA analysis since the beginning of 2019.
Fritz said when presenting its 2018/19 annual report, the national forensic oversight and ethics board noted that the board was facing crippling challenges in the procurement of buccal samples and evidence collection kits, and the awarding of maintenance contracts.
He said this had resulted in a significant decline in the number of cases registered and finalised.
“This backlog results in critical leads being lost in cases of rape and other sexually motivated crimes.
“The shortage of rape kits means that rape survivors suffer secondary victimisation as they are not only attacked but also denied their rights,” Fritz said.
Anti-GBV group Ilitha Labantu's spokesperson, Siyabulela Monakali, said as an organisation that advocated the rights of women and children they had observed with great frustration the delay that was caused particularly with rape cases, and often this was out of the control of the courts.
Monakali said the issue of DNA backlogs needed to be corrected as it meant that justice was delayed for rape survivors.
Civil rights group Action Society estimated that the DNA analysis backlog at the police's forensic science laboratories was in the region of 125 000 cases, of which 92% were related to sexual assault offences.
Action Society spokesperson Daleen Gouws called on the government to empower civil society organisations to assist in addressing the inefficiencies in the DNA testing and investigation processes to accelerate the prosecution of sexual offenders.
Gouws said, as a solution, Action Society suggested that the government assisted communities to run self-management testing labs and use private detectives in order to fast-track findings and verify DNA information.
"This, together with the ability to do own testing and investigation, will lead to more and faster sentencing. We need to arrest and prosecute sexual offenders while evidence of their monstrous act is still fresh and at hand. These people need to be removed from our communities before they can destroy another life,” she said.
She said the time frame between opening a case and sentencing must be shortened. “Not only will this be more effective, it will also make the process more bearable for families."
The Cape Argus tried to reach the police for comment, but they had not responded by the time of publication.