Parliament’s Ad Hoc Committee on Criminal Law (Forensic Procedures) Amendment Bill has decided to defer to their successors a draft law that would have created a DNA database and given police easy access to the Home Affairs National Identification System (HANIS) photographic and fingerprint database
The Parliamentary Monitoring Group reports committee chairwoman Maggie Sotyu Monday told MPs the Bill had been referred to the committee in the second week of January. A specific deadline had been given for the committee to deal with this Bill.
“It became obvious after consultations with stakeholders that it would not be possible to pass the Bill before Parliament’s adjournment [for the April elections],” the PMG reports in its minutes of the meeting.
She asserted that as a result of the public hearings in February and the issues raised by stakeholders that it became necessary to obtain additional information from experts in crime forensics.
Steven Swart (African Christian Democratic Party) responded that there are genuine concerns about the delay in the finalisation of the Bill “particularly in view of the fact that it was such an important strategy in the fight against crime.”
He asked if it could be put on record that there were members from all political parties, including the majority party that expressed their deep disappointment that the Bill had not been finalised.
According to the PMG Sotyu replied that it “was unfortunate that those members who were not satisfied with the progress of the Bill had not made any contact with the office of the chair, preferring instead to go to the newspapers. The press would not assist in that regard as the Committee members were the only ones who could deal with the matter.”
Democratic Alliance MP and former law professor Tertius Delport said he was “concerned that it appeared as if the Committee’s main concern had been about the implementation and not about the provisions of the Bill itself.” He “found this to be somewhat strange since Parliament had to create the legal framework.”
Delport said he had also noted “the Committee’s reluctance to allow the private sector to … provide services in this regard, and this too he found was strange.”
“The question of how it would be implemented was not meant to be something that held back the law in itself,” the PMG recorded him as saying.
African National Congress (ANC) MP Mighty Madasa responded that all the members on the committee had been “enthusiastic to push this legislation through.”
However, “there were important issues that were important to resolve to ensure that the effectiveness of the Bill. If one recalled the history of the ‘Scorpions` experience, one of the main problems which eventually returned to haunt Parliament was a lack of clarification from the onset between the roles of Justice and the Police,” Madasa continued.
It is necessary to have such clarity “so that when it came to the implementation, Parliament would know whom to hold accountable should any problems arise.”
ANC MP Carol Johnson added that from the onset there had been serious constitutional issues that had been raised which the committee would have liked to explore fully if there had been more time available. “Because there had been inadequate time to canvass these issues, they still remained outstanding and unresolved”.
Another ANC colleague, Annelize van Wyk added that there were also concerns over the “integrity measures that had to be put into place.”
Sotyu remained adamant that there was no way that legislation of this kind could be dealt with in a matter of three to four weeks. “At the beginning it had appeared feasible but it became necessary to have consultations with the police who had failed to report,” Sotyu reportedly said. “The committee had not heard anything from them in terms of how they planned to take this legislation forward. Having had experience with other pieces of legislation that the police had failed to implement, it had been one of the concerns with this particular Bill.”
Swart an Sotyu then found common ground in the statement that the committee “found that the Bill is important in the fight against crime in South Africa and it is a crucial element in the revamping of the criminal justice system and it is disappointed that it could not be finalised on time.”