Steps needed to comply with DNA Act
STEPS NEEDED TO COMPLY WITH DNA ACT
Between July and October 2019, the Provincial Secretariat of the Department of Community Safety (DOCS) embarked on a two-phased implementation evaluation of the Criminal Law (Forensic Procedures) Amendment Act 37 of 2013 (or DNA Act). The first phase focused on the activities and responsibilities at a station-level whilst the second phase concentrated on activities conducted at a Provincial and National level as well as the SAPS’ Forensic Science Laboratories (FSL) which deal with DNA analysis.
It was found that there is a notable lack of compliance in terms of gender sensitivity, privacy, cooperation from the FSL, recordkeeping and inspections, training, public awareness and availability of DNA reference buccal kits. Please see infographics attached.
The purpose of the DNA Act is to, amongst others:
- Ensure the proper use and protection of buccal samples, bodily samples and forensic DNA profiles;
- Give provision and authority for DNA samples to be taken or collected from all Schedule 8 offenders as enshrined in the Criminal Procedure Act 51 of 1977; and
- Regulate the administration of the National Forensic DNA Database of South Africa (NFDD).
In line with DOCS’ mandate of oversite, DOCS visited 23 police stations, of which 91.3% are murder and/or gang priority stations in the Western Cape. The purpose was to determine the implementation of the Act in terms of taking of buccal samples; storage of DNA reference buccal samples; compliance inspections conducted; training; challenges and the availability of DNA Buccal sample kits at stations.
Minister Fritz said, “From the outset, the National Forensic Oversight and Ethical Board (or DNA Board) indicated that the maintenance and procurement contracts were not renewed which contributed to a significant decrease in 2018/19 of 215 613 cases registered and 215 994 cases finalised. This was linked to the shortage of evidence collection kits and consumables. Due to the shortage of evidence collection kits, the DNA Board further stopped sampling all convicted offenders. This is of grave concern considering that those who would be sampled are serious offenders.”
Findings on Compliance with the DNA Act
Whilst all stations comply with the prescript that only authorised members who are eligible may take buccal samples from the suspects and persons of interest; there is a notable lack of compliance in terms of gender sensitivity, privacy, cooperation from the FSL, recordkeeping and inspections, training, public awareness and the availability of DNA reference buccal kits.
- Gender sensitivity
To ensure the dignity of the person from whom the DNA reference sample is collected, it is recommended that the members collecting the samples need to be of the same gender. However, 91% of stations reported that buccal samples are not consistently collected by a person of the same gender.
The DNA Act further prescribes that buccal samples should be taken in a place that is private, out of sight and hearing of other persons. It was reported that only 14 stations (61%) adhered and nine did not comply.
- Cooperation from Forensic Science Laboratories
The FSL is mandated to process forensic DNA profiles within a 30-day turn-around period. It was found that nine stations (39.1%) were not satisfied with the services rendered by the FSL. Minister Fritz added, “The delays in processing DNA forensic profiles are of grave concern. My Department’s Court Watching Brief Unit have found that between 2017/2018 and 2018/2019, a number of cases monitored were struck off the court roll due to FSL reports being outstanding.”
- Compliance to the Act in terms of recordkeeping and inspections
Of the stations assessed, only one station kept records of the cases withdrawn or that were struck off the roll, which were in turn escalated to the FSL. The study found that 95.7% of stations do not comply with the DNA Act in this regard. Further, only two stations recorded inspections of the SAPS 13 store to determine if any samples were handed into the store where crime related exhibits are kept.
- DNA collection sample training
All Detectives should be trained in collecting of buccal samples to ensure the successful conviction of a case. Of the stations assessed, there are 849 detectives of which only 550 are trained to collect DNA reference buccal samples. It was further established that of the 2 638 Visible Policing members, only 306 were trained.
- Shortage and availability of DNA reference buccal kits
Some stations reported that the shortage of stock over the past two years includes not only buccal sample kits but also other DNA collections kits such as Adult Sexual Kits, Pediatric Kits and Sexual Assault Kits. Of the stations assessed, 43.5% did not have any kits available in their store. Additionally, 13% of stations had less than five kits available regarding the collection of buccal samples.
Recommendations to address compliance with DNA Act
Minister Fritz said, “It is not enough to critique the services rendered by stakeholders including SAPS stations, the DNA Board, the FSL and the NFDD. For that reason, my Department has made numerous recommendations for the Provincial Commissioner’s attention, including:
- Ensuring that the procurement process of buccal sample kits be improved;
- Facilitating the process of ensuring buccal sample kits is distributed to the priority stations as matter of urgency;
- Ensuring that stations have the required infrastructure to protect the Basic Human Rights’ of suspects or persons of interest during the sampling process;
- Ensuring that SAPS Management Intervention monitors the regular recording of inspections in the Occurrence Book as per the Act;
- Facilitating a training programme for both Detective and Visible Policing components; and
- Recommending the expansion of the Schedule 8 offences to include drug related offences which are currently not covered.”
Attention broadcasters, please find English audio clip attached.