Address by UDM Spokesperson on Justice, in the National Assembly Debate: Criminal Law (Forensic Procedures) Amendment Bill (2 June 2010)

 

Mr Speaker and honourable Members,

The Bill before us has been the subject of a long and complex process of evolution. Two years ago it had been the cause of deep constitutional concerns with regard to citizens’ privacy and other rights.

After much delay and deliberation we are today considering a bill that will allow the police access to the Home Affairs database of fingerprints. In principle we support this concept since it should radically improve the odds of the police identifying the perpetrators of crime.

However allow me to outline three major concerns which relate to the harsh reality that exists in our country.

Firstly, we are talking about giving the police access to a database of law-abiding citizens’ most basic information. It is fine and well to claim that the police will not abuse this access, but unfortunately the track record of the police is not spotless. Just earlier this year a jogger was illegally detained, harassed and threatened for 24 hours by members of the VIP police squad, after he had committed no crime.

Secondly, the database that we are talking about is situated within the Department of Home Affairs, which one can safely describe as one of the most corruption-riddled departments in Government. The Bill seeks to address this concern with the inclusion of severe penalties for tampering with the database. However, we cannot but wonder to what extent crime syndicates who have already infiltrated the Department of Home Affairs will simply manipulate the database to protect their interests.

Thirdly, and most importantly, access to this database is no guarantee of improved police arrest rates when the police’s forensic capacity hardly exists. Anecdotal evidence is rife of the police failing to take fingerprints at crime scenes; on top of that, the official statistics for the state of forensic laboratories indicate that they are on the verge of collapse.

We support the intention of this Bill, but call on the Minister and the security cluster to begin addressing the well-known underlying issues.

The UDM supports the Bill.

I thank you.