During the meeting of the National Forensic Oversight Ethics Board and the Portfolio Committee on Police, the head of the Forensic Science Laboratory (FSL), Major General Edward Ngokha, this morning confirmed that the current DNA backlog yesterday stood at 172,787 cases.
“For the months of January and February 2021 no DNA evidence were processed at the FSL,” he said.
These numbers are increasing as the DNA board has set out an action plan as it struggles to sort out issues ranging from procurement of DNA chemistry and consumables, dysfunctional contract management, poor leadership within the SAPS as well as IT problems, to name a few,” says Dr Rineé Pretorius, spokesperson of Action Society.
The pressure group is worried that this on-going problem will bring SA’s justice system to its knees as hundreds of thousands of criminals are roaming free, probably reoffending, due to a lack of DNA evidence not being able to be presented in court. With no progress seen at the FSL since reporting its turnaround strategy to the Committee in November 2020 Action Society is concerned that thousands of pending rape cases will never be submitted to court because of the compounding backlog at laboratories.
“There is no question that DNA profiling is one of our most successful prosecutorial tools to identify rapists and violent criminals due to its high rate of reliability in securing convictions. If government is serious about gender based violence (GBV), reducing the DNA backlog and increasing capacity at the DNA laboratories should be a priority,” says Pretorius.
During the meeting the newly appointed DNA board was praised for its incoming skills set and capabilities by some parties but questions raised however infer the direct opposite. The Board’s director battled to answer why no inroads have been made to the DNA backlog since November 2020 when the Board met for the first time, despite treasury having granted the FSL an injection of R250 million to effect the necessary changes to address these issues.
“While desperate victims are waiting for their evidence to be presented in court so that justice can prevail, the DNA board needs to show more than just an empty spreadsheet depicting its plan of action to alleviate the desperate situation.”
In additional to the DNA backlog, the evidence tracking system for the entire FSL has not been re-instituted due to an impasse between SAPS and Forensic Data Analysts (FDA). This property control and exhibit management system (PCEM) impacts the processing of all evidence, not just DNA.
“The recording of any handover processes (where DNA exhibits are handed over from person to person, or from a person to a storage location e.g. a fridge or exhibit room, or the other way around) are now being handled manually by means of a paper register. This is not a practical solution as it becomes problematic when evidence presented in court needs to be tracked. SAPS now want to develop an entirely new system to track evidence starting at square one!” says Pretorius.
The pressure group urges government to get the wheels of justice turning again by considering utilising resources of private laboratories in addition to the two state FSL’s to assist with the processing of the current backlog.
“DNA evidence is one of our most powerful weapons against crime and GBV. Ideally we need forensic laboratories in each province as the crime statistics and population has outgrown the ones we have,” says Pretorius.
In the meantime Action Society has called on the Minister to fast-track the finalisation of the three outstanding DNA contracts which will, at the very least, ensure that the DNA samples currently in backlog will begin to be processed.