UK/Canada Study Tour Report finally adopted

On the 2 November 2011, The Portfolio Committee for Police finally adopted the Report in respect of their recent UK/Canada Study Tour. Click on the following link to read the 2011 Report Canada & UK

I have had a copy of the report for several weeks now and have had some time to consider  their findings and recommendations, which I discussed and presented at a recent DNA Conference in Pretoria. Whilst there are some valid findings within the report, there are also some alarming remarks such as “The information received during the study tour showed that DNA was less effective in helping to solve serious crimes like rape and murder, as opposed to property crimes like break-in and entry.”

This type of comment is not only untrue in a South African context, but is irresponsible insofar as failing to recognise the context of this finding. In first world countries such as Canada and the UK, the majority of crimes are robbery and not murder and rape, hence the majority of cases using DNA are, yes, you guessed it, robbery. In addition to this fact, because the career path of a criminal starts with relatively minor crimes such as burglary, these criminals are apprehended and taken out of society long before they go on to commit more serious crimes such as rape and murder.

In South Africa, one just has to study a few cases, where serial offenders could have been identified long before more of their victims were raped or murdered, to realise how vital a role DNA plays in linking otherwise unrelated crimes to each other and identifying the suspect at an early stage of the investigation.  At the recent DNA Conference referred to above, the prosecutor who handled the Mogale case as well as a member of SAPS dealing with serial offenders, showed that DNA is one of the MOST effective forms of evidence in prosecuting serial offenders and linking serious violent crimes in South Africa.

serial rapist and killer: Jack Mogale

serial rapist and killer: Jack Mogale

I will continue to post my reviews and comments in respect of this report over the next few days as well as a summary of what is in the report. In the meantime, please, keep your comments coming in as I am interested to read what you have to say about this report, which I remind everyone: is not binding and only relates to TWO out of some many more countries in the world who are using this technology as a crime fighting tool.

Below is a verbatim extract of the Committee meeting held in Parliament on the 2nd November 2011, when they adopted the final report (courtesy of the PMG):

Dep. Commissioner Paulsen of the RCMP The Deputy Commissioner raised general issues affecting the police and the use of DNA as an investigative tool, privacy rights and general staffing and retention challenges

Dep. Commissioner Paulsen of the RCMP raised general issues affecting the police and the use of DNA as an investigative tool, privacy rights and general staffing and retention challenges

UK/Canada Study Tour Report
The report of the Portfolio Committee for Police’s study tour to Canada and the United Kingdom from 24 June to 10 July this year, was tabled.

The tour was undertaken to study the impact and implementation of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) legislation in both countries, as well as the forensic services, facilities, procedures and best practices in respect of DNA and DNA data bases.
The Criminal Law (Forensic Procedures) Amendment Bill, which was introduced in Parliament in 2009, was aimed, among other matters, at providing a legislative framework in respect of the taking and storage of DNA samples and DNA profiles, and the establishment and regulation of the administration of a national DNA data base.  The Bill was later split and the part of the Bill that dealt with DNA issues was not passed.  It was anticipated that the proposed DNA legislation would be dealt with by the Portfolio Committee on Police in the near future, and to prepare for this, the Committee undertook the study tour.

The report dealt with the background to the tour, a brief history of the use of DNA in fighting crime in South Africa, some of the current challenges at the South African Police Services (SAPS) Forensic Science Laboratory, observations and findings during the visits to the two countries, consideration of legal and ethical issues, and recommendations in respect of proposed DNA legislation in South Africa.  It was emphasised in the report that the recommendations would serve only as a guide, and would not be binding on the committee when it considered DNA legislation.  A clearly costed and comprehensive implementation plan, describing the cost of each phase, should accompany the processing of the Bill.

The report’s recommendations covered three main issues.  These were the traditional arrangements regarding current DNA practices, the protection and limitation of constitutional rights, and areas for consideration in the processing of DNA legislation.

The report noted that unlike Canada and the United Kingdom, South Africa had no legislative system regulating the collection, storage and keeping of DNA.  It would thus be important to consider provision for transitional arrangements in the legislation.

The legislative process needed to take into account that South Africa had a Bill of Rights which was entrenched in the Constitution, in terms of which fundamental human rights were protected and guaranteed.  Any proposed legislation that would govern the collection, storage and use of DNA of a person would need to fall within the parameters of the Constitution, and any information stored in, and the administration of, a proposed national DNA data base, had to be safeguarded against any unauthorised access and possible abuse.

The following human rights were relevant:
The right to human dignity ( Section 10); the right to privacy (Section 14); the right to equality (Section 9); the right to bodily and psychological integrity (Section 12(2)(b)); the rights of arrested, detained and accused persons (Section 35); limitation of rights (Section 36); and the rights of children (Section 28).

Areas to be considered when processing DNA legislation included a decision on what the country wanted to achieve through DNA legislation, the cost implications, the requirements for the secure storage of DNA samples and profiles, the effective administration and control of a national DNA data bank, and a wide range of implementation issues.

The report concluded that while the evidential value of DNA could not be denied, it was important for the public to have realistic expectations about the capabilities of DNA and the implementation of DNA legislation once it had been passed.  The information received during the study tour showed that DNA was less effective in helping to solve serious crimes like rape and murder, as opposed to property crimes like break-in and entry.  While acknowledging the role of DNA in the fight against crime, the report pointed out that DNA evidence in itself could not solve crimes, but could merely assist the police in the investigation of crime and had to be used in conjunction with other evidence.  The comparison of fingerprints obtained from the crime scene was equally important and should be equally emphasised.  Parliament had passed legislation on fingerprints, but this legislation had not yet started to yield results.  This emphasised the importance of thorough police investigation skills, among other things, to follow up on leads and other corroborative evidence.

The safeguarding of DNA samples against contamination – from the time of taking, right though the chain of custody – was important to ensure the quality and integrity of samples, and to ensure that DNA evidence would be accepted by the courts.  Although no conclusive statistics were available, it had been found in the United Kingdom that convicted persons whose DNA profiles were contained on the national data base, were not deterred from re-offending.  This led to the conclusion that a national offender index or data base was not a deterrent to committing crimes or re-offending.

It was also important to note that the countries visited were both first world countries, with bigger national budgets and better police facilities, compared to South Africa – which also had a much higher crime rate.  It would therefore take some time before South Africa would be able to see an improved criminal justice system that was on a par with these countries as far as the introduction of DNA legislation was concerned.

Mr G Schneeman (ANC) proposed the adoption of the report, and was seconded by Ms D Kohler Barnard (DA).

The report was unanimously adopted.

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