NATIONAL NEWS - Civil rights organisation Action Society on Tuesday claimed that the Forensic Science Laboratory’s (FSL) electronic registry system – which manages evidence for DNA analysis for the South African Police Service (Saps) – has been down for almost a year now.
Action Society’s spokesperson Dr Rineé Pretorius warned that this could have an enormous impact on the processing of DNA tests as it is now done manually, especially regarding rape cases.
Pretorius said a Saps report released in November 2020 had revealed a backlog in 117,736 DNA samples that were recorded. He said the fact that the system has been down since June could lead to the latest figures, due to be announced on Tuesday, being far worse.
“As a civil rights organisation fighting for the rights of women and children, we expect the truth to be revealed this morning [Tuesday] when the National Forensic Oversight Ethics Board [DNA council] appears before the Portfolio Committee on Police [in Parliament]. They are accountable to report back as to why the system is down, when the problem will be sorted and what government’s immediate plan is to change the status quo,” Pretorius said.
He added: “The public must understand that there are a chain of events happening from the time a victim reports an incident at the police station until DNA evidence can be presented to court. If this system is not in place, it exposes the chain and jeopardises the credibility of evidence. Action Society is concerned that thousands of pending rape cases will never be submitted to court because of this.”
Pretorius said government could not allow the failure to process DNA samples to bring the criminal justice system to its knees.
“The matter needs to be addressed urgently. We have the necessary technology (which is not maintained) and a rape conviction rate of 7, 8%: South Africa’s government is failing its citizens! When it comes to these essential services, politics must be pushed aside.”
Action Society said it approached the head of the FSL, Major General Edward Ngokha, for an update on the system’s state of affairs but he refused to comment.
“The pressure group argues that the problem can only be solved if the government is willing to engage in partnerships with private laboratories, which have the resources and capacity to help. Given the first critical 48 hours of a case, Action Society’s proposal for community centres, where victims has access to private detectives and trauma counsellors, is extremely relevant.”
Action Society is also calling for the implementation of special sexual offenses courts to fast-track gender-based violence (GBV) convictions.
“The state must get a grip on the wheel of justice by addressing the DNA problems with urgency. If the government is serious about GBV, they should use every resource at their disposal to address the DNA backlog.”