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DNA to be the centre of crime investigations

Written by Noluthando Mkhize
The implementation of the Criminal Law (Forensic Procedures) Amendment Act of 2013, popularly known as the DNA Act, has left criminals with nowhere to hide.

The Act will result in about 5 500 detectives have been trained in taking buccal samples, which are cells found on the inside of the cheek.

This was revealed during the 3rd Forensic Service Conference held at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) in Pretoria recently.

The DNA Act, which came into effect on 31 January 2014, provides the legal framework to make forensic DNA examination one of the most powerful investigative tools available for law enforcement and to identify the perpetrators of crime.

Speaking at the conference, National Police Commissioner General Riah Phiyega said: “The public interest which is served by the DNA Act is important, especially in cases of violent crimes where DNA matching has been proven to be invaluable in matching a suspect to a crime scene.”

General Phiyega added that the DNA Act would provide strict safeguards and penalties to ensure that forensic materials were collected, stored and used only for purposes related to the detection of crime, the investigation of an offence or prosecution.

The Act also stipulates that there should be a National Forensic DNA Database, which would help to gather evidence, eliminate suspects and safeguard people against wrongful convictions or other miscarriages of justice.

Police Minister Nathi Nhleko also appointed a Forensic Oversight Board, which would monitor the implementation of the DNA Act.

“The board will monitor the implementation of the DNA Act regarding the attendance and processing of crime scenes, the collection and storage of exhibit material and DNA samples, the performance of the Forensic Science Laboratory and the National Forensic DNA Database of South Africa.”

The Minister added that the board would ensure compliance on ethical and privacy issues.

“It would be a grave mistake if we focus all our efforts solely on forensic DNA evidence and ignore other forensic evidence at crime scenes. We need to continually empower all our members attending and processing crime scenes, including the first responder to a crime scene to understand their roles, responsibilities and to respect the crime scene.”

“The correct way of handling, securing and protecting evidence from compromise is paramount in ensuring a quality forensic product and supporting the judicial process,” he said.

General Phiyega called upon all forensic examiners to be passionate about their craft and to strive at improving their knowledge and skills in their specialised field.

During the conference the South African Police Service revealed that the Forensic Services has made progress in the reduction of the backlog.

Since the 2009/10 financial year, forensic laboratories reduced the backlog from 59 023 cases to a commendable level of about 4 440 case entries, which shows a 92 per cent backlog reduction up to the third quarter of the 2014/15 financial year.

What is DNA?

DNA is a long molecule that contains coded instructions for the cells. Our DNA is inherited from our parents. We resemble our parents simply because our bodies were formed using DNA to guide the process – the DNA we inherited from them.

We may resemble our parents, but we are never exactly like them. This is because each child gets only some of the DNA each parent carries. About half our DNA comes from our mother, and half comes from our father.

Additional information from: www. seqcore.brcf.med.umich.edu