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Stalled bill could save lives

A BILL that would allow South Africa to use its DNA database to fight crime has been stuck in parliament for four years.

The DNA Bill is expected to allow the database to be used as a criminal intelligence tool as opposed to being used only as a tool to prosecute on a case-by-case basis.

DNA Project's Vanessa Lynch said: "The bill has been stuck with the portfolio committee since 2009. There is no reason why the bill could not have been passed during the past four years."

The first draft of the bill was given to an ad hoc portfolio committee in 2008, which was made up of police and justice. Then, in 2009, it was referred to the police portfolio committee.

Currently South Africa does not have a large DNA database as legislation has kept it at around 130 000 profiles. DNA can be used to match suspects to cases if a prosecutor asked for it.

Lynch said: "We need legislation to regulate the collection of DNA and how long DNA profiles should be retained on the national DNA database before they are expunged.

"We have been unable to establish if the second draft of the DNA Bill has been drafted and we hope someone is working on it. The portfolio committee chairperson specifically asked that a presentation on the DNA Bill be ready for review by the beginning of September 2012.

"It is unacceptable to take so long. People's lives can be saved by this bill."

Department of Justice spokesman Mthunzi Mhaga referred questions on the bill to the police ministry.

Police Ministry spokesman Zweli Mnisi said: "The Criminal Procedure (Forensic) Bill is being processed in two phases. The first phase being the fingerprinting, which was passed into law in September 2011. The second aspect relates to the DNA Bill.

"The bill has been forwarded to the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development for compilation following the deliberations on the DNA Policy in Parliament. The department will be consulted in this drafting process. But it cannot determine how long that process will take before it can be finalised for tabling again in Parliament."

The DA shadow police minister Diane Kohler Barnard said: "We have done all the work regarding the bill. This is the finest crime-fighting tool and we do not know what is delaying it.

"People are dying and we could be able to solve thousands of cold cases with the database. We are behind the times. There is no sign that Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa is serious about the bill being passed." - monamat@sowetan.co.za

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