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DA to lodge human rights complaint against police and lab over DNA test backlog

The backlog at the National Forensic Science Laboratory stands at close to 173,000 cases, which the DA says is a violation of victims' rights. Stock photo.
The backlog at the National Forensic Science Laboratory stands at close to 173,000 cases, which the DA says is a violation of victims' rights. Stock photo.
Image: 123RF/Felipe Caparros Cruz

The DA is to lodge a complaint with the SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) against police and the National Forensic Science Laboratory (NFSL) over worsening backlogs in DNA testing.

DA MP Andrew Whitfield said his party believed the failure to keep the NFSL operating smoothly was a human rights violation on the part of the SAPS as victims suffered the indignity of waiting for justice while living in perpetual fear.

Parliament's portfolio committee on police has called for urgent solutions to the dysfunctional NFSL. It has tasked the newly appointed national forensic oversight and ethics board with fixing the mess.

The committee heard that the test backlog had increased from 117,000 in December to nearly 173,000 this week.

Whitfield said: “SAPS forensic division is clearly still haunted by the corruption scandals stretching back years to when Khomotso Phahlane was still head of the division. It has now become clear that minister Bheki Cele and national police commissioner Gen Khehla Sitole have together failed to restore the integrity of the forensic division and purge it of the ghost of Phahlane. They must therefore be held accountable for their role in this crisis.”

He said his party had raised the alarm about the issue in 2019 when the case exhibit  backlog was less than 100,000.

“In November last year the figure reached over 117,000 and SAPS presented an unrealistic turnaround plan which has failed to deliver any tangible outcomes in its first four months,” he said.

Whitfield said: “We believe that it is therefore critical for the SAHRC to investigate this matter with urgency.”

He called on Sitole and Cele to engage with private laboratories to address the backlog.

“The continued increase in unprocessed DNA case exhibits is holding up the wheels of justice and this situation must not be allowed to continue.”

Committee chairperson Tina Joemat-Pettersson said last week that the board must ensure permanent solutions were found to many long-standing challenges regarding DNA backlogs.

Joemat-Pettersson said for the past two years the committee had highlighted concerns about the backlog, which had a direct impact on the entire criminal justice value chain.

Among the challenges raised by the committee was the NFSL’s ineffective supply chain management systems and processes, leading to protracted delays in the procurement of buccal sample kits. Another challenge was the shortage of buccal sample kits at police stations and service-delivery points, leading to a growing DNA casework backlog, particularly in gender-based violence (GBV) cases.

Additional challenges arose from delays in the amendment of the DNA Act and IT challenges caused by an ongoing legal dispute.

Cele recently appointed 10 board members to the NFSL.

Dr Rineé Pretorius, spokesperson for pressure group Action Society, said they were worried the ongoing problem would bring SA’s justice system to its knees as hundreds of thousands of criminals were roaming free, likely reoffending, due to DNA evidence not being presented in court.


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