SA gets DNA database

Well done! After years of relentless campaigning by Vanessa Lynch, founder of the DNA Project campaign, the country has finally adopted a Bill allowing a centralized DNA database.

The “Criminal Law (Forensic Procedures) Amendment Bill B09-2013″(the ‘DNA Bill’) was finally approved by Cabinet in April 2013: after a relentless campaign since 2010. It was introduced into Parliament on 8 May 2013. “This Bill is expected to ‘have a profound impact on the criminal justice system in South Africa,’ write the DNA-project campaigners on their blog. South Africa’s Vanessa Lynch of the DNA-project is the secret heroine behind the scenes — who has campaigned so relentlessly since 2010 to get this Bill enacted. Well done!

DNAdatabaseSouthAfrica

Above: the DNA-project hit the international headlines on Oct 20 2010, at a DNA conference of the international policing agency Interpol in Lyon, France, when  South Africa’s founder of the DNA Project, Vanessa Lynch, warned that her country urgently needed a centralised DNA data base. “My crusade to bring SA’s DNA-collection system on a par with most Western countries, has everything to do with the sky-high crime statistics and the fact that our criminals are being protected,” she said at the Interpol conference. “The SA Police are by law not allowed to take DNA-samples of arrested crime-suspects nor maintain a data-base of such DNA-samples…’

———————–
On August 13 2013, the Xinhua news agency of the People’s Republic of China broke the news: South African lawmakers had approved the DNA bill.

DNAdatabaseApprovedScoopByChineseXuanNewsAgencyAug142013

The DNA Bill, in essence, addresses the following issues: write the campaigners for the DNA-project below:

  • The existing DNA Database in South Africa which has through default, evolved under the governance of the Criminal Procedure Act of 1977, is a wholly inadequate tool for regulating the use and retention of DNA profiles on a National DNA Database. The new Bill ensures that the future of the current DNA Database is expanded and managed in a regulated and appropriate manner.

  • The DNA Bill makes it mandatory to take DNA samples from suspects at the time of arrest for schedule one offences.

  • It mandates that all convicted offenders DNA samples are taken retrospectively and before their release from prison.

  • It calls for Police Officers to be allowed to take non intimate DNA samples from arrestees and convicted offenders. The collection of a non-intimate DNA sample by a specially trained police officer from an arrestee or convicted offender ensures that a sample is quickly and easily uplifted. The “invasiveness” of the methods of obtaining DNA samples (rubbing a swab around the person’s mouth, or obtaining a drop or two of blood from a pin-prick to a finger), are no different to having a breathalyser taken on suspicion of drunken driving.

  • The DNA Bill ensures the creation of a DNA database in South Africa that will function effectively not only as a tool for gathering inculpatory evidence, but also for gathering exculpatory evidence, to appropriately eliminate suspects and so safeguard against wrongful convictions or other miscarriages of justice.

  • The way in which the DNA profiles are stored on the DNA Database, namely by using markers from the non coded regions of a person’s DNA ensures that no genetic disposition or other distinguishing feature may be read from that profile other than gender. The retention of the profile, in that form, is the same as a fingerprint, and therefore its retention does not impact on the privacy of the individual in any way whatsoever.

  • The creation of a Reference Index, Crime Scene Index and Convicted Offender Index ensures that DNA profiles are appropriately stored and managed.

  • The DNA Bill adequately retains an appropriate balance between the rights of individuals and the respect for privacy. The new Bill has been carefully drafted to ensure that  the DNA Database is maximized to its full potential in combating and preventing crime in South Africa, whilst still ensuring that it has minimal impact on the civil rights of its citizens.

  • The Bill importantly calls for an Oversight Committee to be formed which will monitor the implementation of this legislation. The Oversight Committee will monitor the collection and storage of samples, the performance of the Forensic Science Laboratory and the National Forensic DNA Database. The Board will ensure compliance with ethical and privacy issues and ensure minimum quality standards are set and adhered to. Over time the Oversight Committee will establish the effectiveness of the legislation in the fight against crime and review the Bill in order that any necessary changes are made to maximize the efficiency of the use of the Database as a criminal intelligence tool.

  • The  DNA Bill shows that the Government has explicitly tackled the scourge of crime in South Africa by demonstrating that if there is any perceived intrusion on an individual through the retention of their DNA profile, it is outweighed by a demonstrated and long awaited  interest in protecting its citizens against serious and violent and crimes.

  • In order to ensure the successful implementation of this legislation, First-on-crime scene police investigators, as well as key personnel involved in crime scenes, including the private security and emergency services sector, must be trained in how to identify, collect and preserve DNA evidence at crime scenes, so that critical evidence can be collected and fewer cases will be at risk of being jeopardized due to the mishandling of evidence. In addition, officers of the courts must be educated in how DNA evidence technology works to corroborate a case against a suspect or exonerate a suspect quickly, thereby decreasing delays in court.

  • The public interest which is served by the new Bill, is important, especially in cases of violent crime where DNA matching has been proven  to be invaluable in matching a suspect to a crime scene. I believe the Bill, when passed,  will have a profound impact on the criminal justice system in South Africa.

      The DNA Bill aims to achieve these objectives, while providing for strict safeguards and penalties to ensure that forensic materials are collected, stored and used only for purposes related to the detection of crime, the investigation of an offence or prosecution. The DNA Bill adequately addresses these issues and has been carefully drafted to ensure that the NDDSA is used to its full potential in combating and preventing crime in South Africa, while ensuring that it has minimal impact on the civil rights of citizens. In addition, the DNA Bill ensures that the creation of a DNA database will function effectively, not only as a tool for gathering incriminating evidence, but also for gathering evidence, to eliminate suspects and so safeguard against wrongful convictions or other miscarriages of justice.

      For the effective management of the NDDSA, the new DNA Bill proposes the creation of five different sections, or ‘indexes’, of the current NDDSA to be established, namely:

      • The Crime Scene Index, containing DNA profiles collected from crime scenes.

      • The Reference Index, containing DNA profiles taken from persons suspected, reported, charged or cautioned for any recordable offence.

      • The Convicted Offender Index, containing DNA profiles of convicted offenders.

      • The Elimination Index, containing DNA profiles of people working in the collection and analysis of forensic samples.

      • The Volunteer Index, containing DNA profiles of victims, as well as persons requesting their profiles to be kept on the database. Parents may volunteer to record their children’s DNA on the Volunteer Index in case they ever go missing.

          The Crime Scene Index, the Reference Index and the Convicted Offender Index are the most crucial for criminal intelligence, as they play an important role in the resolution of crime. The Crime Scene Index will ensure that a crime scene sample is taken from the scene of a crime (hair, blood or semen, for example), where the perpetrator is unknown. Given the recidivistic nature of most crimes in South Africa, the likelihood exists that the perpetrator of the crime being investigated may have already been convicted of a similar crime and may have his or her DNA profile on the NDDSA, which can then be searched as against the other profiles already stored on the NDDSA. Moreover, this type of speculative searching permits the cross-comparison of DNA profiles, developed from biological evidence found at crime scenes, which are known as crime scene-to-crime scene matches. Even if a perpetrator is not identified through the NDDSA, crimes may be linked to each other in this way, thereby aiding an investigation, and potentially leading to the identification of a suspect.

          Of note is the inclusion of the Convicted Offender Index retroactively. The DNA Bill makes specific provision for the retrospective taking of convicted offender samples. The rationale behind obtaining DNA profiles from all convicted criminals is that research has shown that:

          • It acts as a deterrent and addresses the question of accountability, both of which pose huge issues in South Africa, in respect of criminals repeatedly committing crimes.

          • It can be used to link an offender with previous crime scenes, where DNA profiles have been obtained.

              A DNA Database is only really successful if its reference index contains enough DNA profiles of known individuals to run a speculative search against DNA profiles derived from crime scene samples, to identify possible suspects. Currently, South Africa has a hit rate of less than ten percent because our crime scene-derived DNA profiles far outnumber reference DNA profiles.

              The new DNA Bill will permit the police to build up the NDDSA by entering known or suspect DNA profiles into the Reference and Convicted Indexes and unidentified DNA profiles, or crime scene profiles, into the Crime Scene Index. To find a match, forensic analysts compare the DNA profile obtained from crime scene evidence to the profile from a known individual (suspect or victim). It goes without saying that the more ‘known DNA profiles’ that exist on the Reference and Convicted Offender Indexes, the greater the chance of there being a match when an unknown or crime scene profile is entered and run against the Reference or Convicted Offender Databases.

              Typically, there are three possible laboratory outcomes when a DNA profile is entered onto the NDDSA:

              1. If the DNA profile from a crime scene and a known DNA profile are identical, forensic analysts interpret this finding as a ‘match’, or ‘hit’.

              2. If the two profiles are not consistent, the finding is interpreted as a ‘non-match’ or ‘exclusion’.

              3. If there is insufficient data to support a conclusion, the finding is regarded as ‘inconclusive’

              http://dnaproject.co.za/legislation-homepage/legislation/a-new-dna-bill 

              http://dnaproject.co.za/new_dna/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/DNA-BILL-B09-2013.9-MAY-20131.pdf

              About Adriana Stuijt
              Retired South African-Dutch journalist formerly Sunday Times Johannesburg

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