We have a serious problem with crime in South Africa but there is currently an opportunity to do something about it, or at least put much-needed framework in place. The DNA Project has been pushing for parliament to pass the Criminal Law (Forensic Procedures) Amendment Bill B2-2009 or DNA Bill. Although DNA profiling was first used in 1986, South Africa has no legislation regulating DNA evidence. The DNA Bill seeks to address the issue by creating legislation focussed on biological evidence, particularly DNA, establishing a national DNA database and putting in place the necessary policies and oversight of such a database.
DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) is a long molecule that holds the information used to make all living things what they are. There are a few exceptions and complications but as a generalisation that’s a good rule. Certain parts of our DNA varies from person to person and by using it we are able to identify people. Essentially it functions in a similar way to a fingerprint, only it’s far more accurate and very difficult to cover up.
We need this tool to help address the high levels of crime in our country. It can’t make up for corrupt or incompetent policing but when used correctly it, and other scientific investigations, are the best way to find out the truth. DNA profiling can help identify repeat criminal, prove guilt and free the innocent. In the US, for example, the Innocence Project has used DNA evidence to exonerate over 200 people who were wrongly imprisoned, some of whom were sentenced to execution. By using forensic evidence, like DNA, rather than unreliable evidence, like eyewitnesses, we could prevent such miscarriages of justice from happening in the first place.
The DNA Bill is now before parliament and any interested party can send in their comments before 30 May. Written submissions addressed to the Portfolio Committee on Police, should be directed to the Committee Secretary, Babalwa Mbengo, and posted to P. O. Box 15, Cape Town 8000, or e-mailed to email@example.com or faxed to 086 665 5444. Alternatively, the DNA Project has set up a petition on Avaaz which I’m asking you to sign.