CONVICTED criminals will have to wait for six years after their release from prison before their DNA samples are removed from a national database, the recently concluded policy on the creation of a DNA database for crime investigation has recommended to Parliament.

Some years ago a draft bill - the Criminal (Forensic Procedures) Bill - was tabled in Parliament but was sent back to the police because of fears that it violated the right to privacy, the right to dignity and the right to bodily integrity of accused and or convicted persons. These concerns were about how the DNA samples would be taken and how long they would be stored.

The civilian secretary for the police, Jenny Irish-Qhobosheane, and a team from the South African Police Service's forensics laboratory last week presented the revised policy to Parliament's police committee.

The presentation follows the news that a DNA database is to be implemented in Brazil leading to renewed calls for one to be established in SA for a more scientific and efficient way of identifying criminals.

Ms Irish-Qhobosheane told the police committee that the purpose of DNA legislation would be to "create a DNA database as envisioned in the revamp of the criminal justice system which will allow the police to develop a DNA database which can be used for criminal intelligence purposes and which will assist in the investigation and detection of crimes".

The DNA samples, and the profiles they will generate, will be divided into five categories - those lifted at the crime scene, those of volunteers taken for elimination purposes, those of arrested persons, those of convicted persons and a second volunteer index.

If an arrestee is found not guilty then their sample and profile will be removed from the database within six months. This goes a long way to satisfying some of the problems with the earlier legislation that samples taken would remain on the database for a long time.

The elimination profiles will remain on the database indefinitely while those of people convicted of crimes will be removed from the database six years after release, so long as there have been no further connection of their samples to other crimes.

Samples taken from crime scenes will remain on the database indefinitely while the second category of volunteer samples will be removed after three months.

Those of victims will be removed immediately after their case has been finalised.

Special swabs will be used to collect saliva samples and these do not violate human dignity or bodily integrity.

Ms Irish-Qhobosheane and her team also told the committee that the intention is to link the DNA database to the automated fingerprint identification system in order to further improve the ability to identify linkages to individuals.

The presentation to the committee concluded that efficient police investigations had to complement the use of DNA but "it is however scientifically sound and in terms of evidentiary value is especially beneficial".

The policy also proposes that DNA sampling is performed only by accredited officers or doctors and that an (independent) board be created to oversee the accreditation of both officials and police stations where DNA sampling can take place.

It is also proposed that the legislation provides for those tampering with the database to be guilty of a criminal offence.

African National Congress MP Annelize van Wyk, while warning that DNA is not a magic wand that will solve every crime, says the creation of a DNA database is urgently required as an additional tool for crime investigation.

She says the committee is satisfied that the policy has sorted out the constitutional issues raised when the first bill came to Parliament.

Ms van Wyk, responding to a question about the current state of efficiency in forensic laboratories, says great improvements in recent years have been made in the time that it takes to process DNA samples taken by the police.

hartleyw@bdfm.co.za