Described as a world-class piece of legislation, the DNA bill before Parliament could see thousands of unsolved crimes being reopened and finalised through the establishment of a central DNA database.
The Criminal Law (Forensic Procedures) Amendment Bill, known as the DNA bill, will also see the training of prosecutors and judicial officers on how to deal with and manage the new evidence once the country sets up its first national DNA database, a resource expected to improve conviction rates and reduce crime.
The bill, once passed into law, will allow for the collection of DNA samples of all offenders in prison, which will be compared against existing samples in unsolved cases.
The bill came under the spotlight during public hearings held by the National Assembly’s committee on police. The hearings started on Tuesday and ends on Wednesday.
The bill’s objective, among others, is to amend the Criminal Procedure Act of 1977, to provide for the taking of specified bodily samples from certain categories of people, for DNA analysis.
South Africa does not have a law enabling police to collect DNA samples, or a national forensic database, or police officers trained in the collection of DNA.
Putting forward its official submission, Strategic Investigations and Seminars’ managing director, Nick Olivier, welcomed the DNA bill, saying it would go a long way towards solving crimes.
“We support the bill 100 percent. It’s going to have a lot of impact on the solving of crimes in South Africa, and we want to applaud the committee and other role-players, specifically the DNA Project for their initiative,” said Olivier.
In a submission, Olivier said it should be made clear that a sample taken from or under the nail should not be used as a reference sample. He added that a “buccal” swab from a suspect must be included in section 36 of the bill.
DA MP Dianne Kohler Barnard told the hearing that in a court last month, DNA had been used in a multiple rape case.
“The magistrate jailed the man for ever, only because of the DNA found in various rape victims over a period of time in a certain area. So this is the way to go,” she said.
Major-General Adeline Shezi, of the police’s forensic services division, said the intention of the bill was mainly to regulate the use of a forensic database to fight crime.
“In our instance, we did a benchmark with other countries, and see what is befitting the South African status and how far can this legislation go into assisting in the solving of crime. So it will assist,” Shezi said.
“Already in South Africa when someone is arrested there are reasonable grounds or suspicion of a crime.
“So once there is reasonable ground already, we can now quickly process the sample under the arrestee database and do comparative searches, to see if we can link them with any others,” she said.
Shezi said it was highly likely that it would, because most arrested suspects were repeat offenders.
“So it will go an extra mile, be it rape, be it murder, be it housebreaking. So we can go back into jail and sample all of them to do the comparative search,” Shezi said.
“That’s why the portfolio committee is of the view that it is world-class.”
Kohler Barnard described Shezi as a “genius” for all the work and research that was put into the legislation, which took members of the committee to the UK and Canada.
“It’s world-class legislation and with the rape situation it is massive.
“Once passed, the bill will allow us to walk into a jail and take DNA samples from prisoners.
“We went to the UK and Canada and were up at 5am everyday working on this,” said Kohler Barnard.
She added that it was a pity that the cabinet had sat on the bill for about two years before it finally made its way to Parliament.