Yesterday, (August 15th 2013), the South African Parliament passed a bill, permitting the creation of a DNA database for South African police. The Criminal Law (Forensic Procedures) Amendment Bill, permits the taking of DNA from suspects during criminal investigations. While the cost of the DNA database and associated costs have been queried and concerns abound about whether the nation can afford the cost it is hoped that the human rights/ civil liberties concerns that have delayed the passing of the bill, have been addressed (e.g. see: Costing queried as DNA bill gets the nod).
There are high hopes that in South Africa, a country beset with a massive crime problem, with corruption rife within a highly dysfunctional justice system, will assist with criminal detection.
The DNA bill was supported by a very high profile (and successful) campaign by families of crime victims – you can see their work and campaign successes in their very professional website: ‘The DNA Project’.
As yet, even with the wide media coverage, there has been no mention of the use of DNA to exonerate innocent prisoners, of whom there would be expected to be many. The emphasis so far is all on the detection of offenders – although we know that the diligent use of DNA at an early stage in criminal investigations can be an effective tool in the prevention of wrongful convictions. However, it is hoped that with the establishment, and investment in a DNA database, South Africa may be able to take action on miscarriages of justice.
Further north, in Kenya, there has been a recent call to recognise the potential for miscarriages of justice, and take action to give greater rights of appeal and for the judicial system to acknowledge the possibility of miscarriages of justice, albeit the country is yet to publicise any: Kenya scarred by miscarriage of justice. Perhaps there is cause for cautious optimism that the ‘innocence movement’ may be spreading to the African continent.