New DNA laws for South Africa – how they work

Prisoners convicted of serious offences in South Africa will have to give compulsory DNA samples under the Criminal Law (Forensic Procedures) Amendment Bill.

From 31 January, a suspect arrested and charged with a schedule 8 offence will be required to provide a DNA sample which will be uploaded onto the National Forensics DNA database. Schedule 8 offences include some of the country’s most serious violent crimes  – including murder and rape.

Taking a DNA sample of a suspected perpetrator, even before a court date is set, is expected to massively increase the successful prosecution rate and assist law enforcement in clamping down on perpetrators.

These DNA samples will populate the National Forensics DNA Database (NFDD) which will enable law enforcement to link perpetrators to cold cases, identify repeat offenders and get more perpetrators prosecuted.

In a presentation to parliament on Wednesday (16 February), the Civilian Secretariat for Police Services said the regulations will better allow authorities to develop a database of violent offenders in the country.

It added that DNA-taking will be mandatory, with prisoners required to give a sample while they serve their prison term or before their release.

While existing legislation had given powers to law enforcement to take DNA (buccal samples), the secretariat said there had been ‘significant obstacles’ as prisoners simply refused to have buccal samples taken.

“This clearly is as a result of the fear that they could be linked with other unsolved cases where their DNA samples have not been taken before. The new bill will address this obstacle,” the secretariat said.

Authorities are now permitted to lodge a court application to obtain the samples and are permitted to use ‘minimal force’ in retrieving them.

President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the commencement of parts of the Act from February, which will give the country’s law enforcement additional tools around DNA collection and usage in capturing and prosecuting criminals.

The move has been welcomed by civil society organisation Action Society, which it says will assist in addressing cold cases, and should see an increase in successful prosecutions.

“DNA remains the most effective crime-fighting tool. The sampling of schedule 8 arrestees will make a huge impact in solving cold cases, identifying repeat offenders and assisting in successful prosecutions of rapists and murderers,” said spokesperson Elanie van der Walt.

“The South African Police Service (SAPS) will have to ensure that their stations are equipped with the necessary consumables to do the sampling and police members must urgently receive training in order for this legislation to have a positive impact in the fight against violent crime, especially gender-based violence and femicide (GBVF), in our country.”


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