Following a morning of presentations by the Civilian Secretariat for Police (Jenni Irish-Qhobosheane), the Secretariat’s Chief Policy Drafter (Bilkis Omar) as well as a representative from the Forensic Science Laboratory (General Adeline Shezi), the Portfolio Committee for Police (PCP) finally accepted the DNA Policy which will underpin the drafting of the second version of the DNA Bill. The DNA Policy was accepted with the proviso that once the Minister of Police has signed off the Policy, the state law advisors must be instructed to have the DNA Bill ready for review for the Committee by no later than the end of August 2012/beginning September 2012.
Summary of Proceedings:
The morning started off somewhat awry, as we were informed that the Chairperson of the Committee, Sindi Chikunga, had the previous day been appointed as Deputy Minister of Transport by the President. This meant that her position as Chair of the PCP was immediately vacated. The Committee therefore had to nominate an acting Chair, which they (thankfully) did expeditiously and Annelize van Wyk (ANC MP) was voted in as acting chairperson of the Committee until such time as a permanent position has been found.
The Secretariat’s Chief Policy Drafter, Bilkis Omar, then proceeded to provide an overview of the recommendations contained in the Secretariat’s DNA policy which they had prepared for the Committee.
In summary, the Secretariat’s Policing Policy on the establishment and administration of a DNA Database in South Africa recommended that:
1. the DNA Bill allowed for the current repository of DNA profiles to be expanded by populating it with more DNA profiles from different categories of people in an effort to utilise the DNA Database as a criminal intelligence tool and not just on a case by case basis.
2. the FSL make it a priority to fast track the accreditation process of the forensic science lab. (FSL) and to this end, they requested that the FSL prepare a road map for the Committee as to where they are and how long it will take to complete this crucial process.
3. the custodianship of the Database must remain under the security of the FSL.
4. five categories of indices be created on the Database, namely an arrestee (reference) index, volunteers index, crime scene index, convicted offender index and elimination index.
5. authorised members of SAPS be appointed to collect DNA samples from arrestees and convicted offenders after undergoing training from appointed medical practitioners.
6. reference samples must be taken at specially appointed police stations and in dedicated sample taking rooms at the courts, the location of which must be selected by an oversight body.
7. a framework for the retention, destruction and expungement of different types of samples: crime scene samples to be retained indefinitely; reference samples to be destroyed once a complete profile has been obtained
8. a framework for the retention, destruction and expungement of different types of profiles: arrestees profile to be expunged within 6 months if acquitted or non conviction results; convicted offender profiles to remain on the database for 6 years after release; crime scene profiles to remain indefinitely, volunteer profiles to be expunged within 3 months of being searched against a particular crime and victims’ profiles to be expunged immediately after finalisation of a case.
9. Human rights issues to be considered in the Bill to ensure it falls within the parameters of the rights entrenched in the Constitution, bearing in mind that the rights of individuals have to be balanced against individuals right to safety and security.
10. CODIS, the DNA Database management software which is available free of charge internationally, to be used for the administration of the Database.
11. other relevant departments be consulted where the Bill may have an impact.
12. a phased in implementation to be adopted: two phases were recommended of 18 months each, namely:
- legislation to be adopted
- oversight body to be established
- identified stations to be accredited
- capacity to be expanded
- forensic awareness campaign to be conducted
- collection of convicted offenders samples to begin
- collection of samples in respect of all other indices to begin
- Monitoring & Evaluation (‘M&E’) of the first 18 months to be conducted
- impact studies of improvement of hits to be concluded
- sample collection to continue
13. An Oversight Body be established which must report to Parliament Annually.
14. DNA legislation to be reviewed every 5 years to address gaps, technological needs and developments and human rights issues, where and if applicable.
The DNA Policy recommended that South Africa establish a DNA Database as a criminal intelligence tool, to aid in fighting crime and to enhance public confidence while taking into consideration peoples’ Constitutional rights.
Where to from here?
The DNA Project considers the acceptance of the DNA Policy a huge step towards the passing of appropriate legislation to regulate and expand the DNA Database in South Africa. It is however only one step in the process and the next two big steps are going to be:
1. the drafting of the legislation by the state law advisors based on the recommendations contained in the policy.
2. the tabling of the Bill timeously so that the review process may begin.
We will of course keep close tabs on the above two processes and will continue to apply much needed pressure to ensure that this process is not delayed unnecessarily.
The FSL have a huge task ahead of them, as the overall implementation plan presented to the Committee yesterday will not suffice in the review process: it will need to be more fully costed and explained if it is to withstand the rigorous questioning of the Committee in the future.
For now however, let us be happy that for the most part, the most important provisions have been accepted in the policy, which is what we had hoped for. While some provisions may not be as extensive as we had hoped for, we still have an opportunity during public submissions to argue a case for those points.
And once the Bill has been passed? Then the real work begins…