Concerns raised over DNA backlog: 172 787 cases still to be processed.
DURBAN - The Portfolio Committee on Police has ordered the newly appointed National Forensic Oversight and Ethics Board to urgently assist in finding solutions to the dysfunctional state of the National Forensic Science Laboratories (NFSL).
Owing to a massive backlog in cases, the committee revealed that in some cases, families have to wait up to two years to bury loved ones who were victims of crime.
“This is highly reprehensible and unacceptable,” the committee said.
Today, it was revealed that the current DNA backlog stood at 172 787 cases.
According to the head of the Forensic Science Laboratory (FSL), Major-General Edward Ngokha, for the months of January and February this year no DNA evidence had been processed.
This revelation was slammed by Action Society and the DA.
According to Action Society's Dr Rineé Pretorius, they are worried that this on-going problem will bring SA’s justice system to its knees as hundreds of thousands of criminals are roaming free, probably re-offending, due to a lack of DNA evidence available to be presented in court.
“With no progress seen at the FSL since reporting its turnaround strategy to the committee in November 2020, we are concerned that thousands of pending rape cases will never be submitted to court because of the compounding backlog at laboratories.
“There is no question that DNA profiling is one of our most successful prosecutorial tools to identify rapists and violent criminals due to its high rate of reliability in securing convictions. If government is serious about gender-based violence (GBV), reducing the DNA backlog and increasing capacity at the DNA laboratories should be a priority,” she said.
She added that the board was battling to get answer why no inroads had been made to tackle the backlog despite Treasury having granted the board an injection of R250 million to effect the necessary changes to address these issues.
Pretorius said they are urging government to get the wheels of justice turning again by considering using resources of private laboratories in addition to the two state NFSLs to assist with the processing of the backlog.
“DNA evidence is one of our most powerful weapons against crime and GBV. Ideally we need forensic laboratories in each province as the crime statistics and population has outgrown the ones we have,” she said.
DA Shadow Minister of Police, Andrew Whitfield, said the backlog of case exhibits to be processed could hit the 200 000 mark in March if the current trajectory follows course.
"This despite the much-lauded SAPS turnaround plan presented to committee in November last year. At the time, the DNA backlog was over 117 000 case exhibits awaiting processing, which means the backlog has grown by more than 60 000 case exhibits as the system has ground to a halt,“ he said.
He said last year, the DA wrote to National Police Commissioner General Kehla Sitole, asking him to urgently investigate partnerships with private laboratories to address the backlog.
“This seems to have fallen on deaf ears. The DA once again calls on the General Sitole, and the Minister of Police, Bheki Cele, to engage with private laboratories as this continued increase in unprocessed DNA case exhibits is holding up the wheels of justice and this situation must not be allowed to continue,” he said.