Criminal Law (Forensic Procedures) Amendment Bill: Briefing by the Civilian Secretariat for Police Service

Multi-Party Women’s Caucus

24 February 2022
Chairperson: Ms K Bilankulu (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

In a virtual meeting attended by the Ministers of Police, Social Development and officials from several departments, the Civilian Secretariat for Police Service briefed the Multi-Party Women’s Caucus on the Criminal Law (Forensic Procedures) Amendment Bill (B25-2021). The Bill removed restrictions in the Criminal Procedure Act on taking DNA samples of persons serving prison sentences for Schedule 8 offences [which include rape, murder, human trafficking, robbery and culpable homicide].

Members of the Caucus welcomed the Bill and appreciated the attendance of the Minister of Police. They sought clarity on the precise scope of the Bill. They asked about the reintegration of offenders into communities and whether support could be provided for survivors from the moment they decided to lay charges (and even after leaving state care facilities). Questions were asked about the wellness of police officers who regularly came into contact with violence and threats to their lives; and cultural problems around the reporting of domestic abuse.

Meeting report

Briefing Civilian Secretariat for Police Service
The Civilian Secretariat for Police Service presented the background and a summary of the Criminal Law (Forensic Procedures) Amendment Bill (B25-2021).  This was for information purposes because the Bill had already been tabled in Parliament for consideration. [The Minister of Police introduced the Bill on 20 December 2021.}
The Bill was intended to empower the South African Police Service (SAPS) to take buccal samples containing the DNA of persons serving prison sentences for offences listed in Schedule 8 of the Criminal Procedure Act. [These cover violent crimes including rape, murder, human trafficking, robbery and culpable homicide]. Amendments to the principal Act promulgated in 2015 had empowered SAPS to take buccal samples, but only for a two-year transitional period that had expired in January 2017. The Bill removed this limitation, empowering SAPS to take buccal samples indefinitely. The Bill also placed the National Commissioner of Police under an obligation to report on progress made in collecting buccal samples from Schedule 8 offenders, and provided for the use of minimum force against offenders who resisted having a sample taken.

Ms J Mananiso (ANC) asked if a version of the Bill had been written in any language other than English or Afrikaans.

Ms R Lesoma (ANC) welcomed the Bill and appreciated the Minister’s presence. Recognising that it didn’t relate directly to the Bill, she said that government should look into the problem of survivors of domestic abuse remaining dependent on their abusers for housing after they left state care facilities.

Ms N Abraham (ANC) asked if the Bill provided for the collection of samples of newly convicted Schedule 8 offenders as well as those already serving a prison sentence. She also asked how the perpetrators of serious crimes such as murder and rape could be prevented from re-offending after being released.

Ms W Ngwenya (ANC, Gauteng) asked whether the country’s forensic science laboratories (FSLs) had sufficient capacity to process the samples, given the existing backlog of samples. She asked whether police officers would receive training on the content of the Bill. Would SAPS have the necessary resources to comply with it? She asked which offences were listed in Schedule 8. She said that SAPS should involve communities to ensure that parolees worked for, and were accepted by, communities.

Ms J Tshabalala (ANC) commended SAPS for its actions during a recent raid in Rosettenville, Johannesburg, in which eight alleged robbers planning a cash-in-transit heist had been killed and ten more arrested. She asked whether police officers understood the intentions and implications of the Bill and challenges around policing gender-based violence and femicide (GBVF). Were they able to give support to victims coming to lay charges? She also asked whether the officers who handled these cases were debriefed, as the cases could be immensely emotionally draining, and men were also suffering from mental illnesses and depression. SAPS must take care of its staff. She asked if social workers were involved in reintegrating perpetrators into society after serving a prison sentence. There needed to be collaboration with other departments. What had been the contribution of the Department of Justice to the Bill? She asked if the Minister was planning to hold any imbizos on the Bill.

Ms N Sharif (DA) observed that there was a problematic culture of dealing with domestic abuse “within the family” which perpetuated generational cycles of abuse. There needed to be a much more open dialogue about violence within families that protected victims and survivors, ensured that perpetrators were held accountable, and acknowledged the complexity of women. The whole country, men and women, were struggling with cycles of violence and new solutions needed to be found. She recalled that the Minister had asked her to contact him directly if she witnessed malpractice at police stations, such as turning women away, and asked him to provide his contact details. She asked if the Bill would enable buccal samples to be obtained from offenders who were currently serving prison sentences, and how the samples were stored and recorded. Would there be a public register?

Minister Cele replied that the complaints about the handling of GBVF cases at police stations had been heard by the Ministry of Police. Special teams were being trained to deal with these matters from the front desk. There were now 381 police stations across the country with trained personnel working there on a permanent or semi-permanent basis, and the intention was to have trained personnel at every police station in the country. 9 000 people had been trained so far. He stressed that even if half of the population became police officers, SAPS would still rely on the cooperation of communities to be effective. This was a fact about policing that was known all over the world. Therefore, community outreach programmes would continue. He admitted that FSLs had been under-capacitated for a long time, especially when it came to processing DNA samples. For example, it had been discovered that contracts to supply vital chemicals had simply not been signed. Together with the Deputy Minister he had taken on the task of building the capacity of FSLs as one of his main projects and progress was already being made. For example, interns that had been let go had been reinstated. He had visited FSLs in the Western Cape and Pretoria and seen that they were working efficiently. There was a problem of flooding at the laboratory at Amanzimtoti in Kwazulu-Natal and the Department was looking for a new site, while work on expanding the lab in Port Elizabeth was proceeding according to plan. He expected that the DNA test backlog would be cleared by August 2022.

Mr Takalani Ramaru, Acting Secretary, Civilian Secretariat of Police Service (CSPS), said that the Department of Justice (DoJ) had been consulted during the development of the Bill and supported it. The Bill had been considered by the Justice, Crime Prevention and Security (JCPS) Cluster, which also supported it. He was unable to comment on programmes for the reintegration of parolees into society or whether social workers were involved in the release of parolees as these matters were the responsibility of the Department of Correctional Services. The CSPS was however in discussions with the Minister of Correctional Services to explore interdepartmental cooperation in the reintegration of parolees.

Dr Philip Jacobs, CSPS, said that amendment bills had to be written in the same language or languages as the principal Act. Therefore the Bill in question had only been written in English and Afrikaans. He explained that section 36D(1) of the Criminal Procedure Act made it an obligation for a buccal sample to be taken from a person suspected of committing a Schedule 8 offence when they were arrested. SAPS had previously been unable to fully comply with this section, but as of 31 January 2022, SAPS had indicated that it was now capable of fully complying with it, so it was now obliged to take samples from suspects in Schedule 8 cases when they were arrested. Training for taking the samples was prescribed in the Act. It was important that enough officers were trained and enough kits were available. Schedule 8 offences were treason, sedition, public violence, murder, culpable homicide, war crimes, rape, sexual offences, robbery, kidnapping, child-stealing, assault, arson, breaking and entering, theft, firearms and explosives offences, terrorism, human trafficking and torture. DNA evidence could play a role in solving and securing convictions for all of these crime types. Buccal samples were analysed at FSLs and the results were entered into the National Forensic DNA Database.

[An official from CSPS] said that ensuring DNA records were obtained from inmates currently serving prison sentences was one of the intentions of the Bill.

Minister Cele said that the wellness of police officers had come into focus recently following an incident at Tembisa hospital in which an officer had shot his girlfriend dead and then critically wounded himself. There was a SAPS wellness unit but the deeper problem was a “tigers don’t cry” mentality among male officers which made them reluctant to make use of such services. There had also been reports that personal information was leaked by the wellness practitioners. Officers who came face to face with crime scenes and risked their lives every day were bound to suffer from stress.

Follow-up discussion
Ms Tshabalala said she wanted to inform the Minister that illegal mining, rape, murder and child abuse were rife at Booysens squatter camp in Johannesburg, which was inhabited mainly by baSotho nationals. The residents did not report crimes because they were afraid of reprisals. Even police officers were afraid to enter the camp. A serious intervention was required. The Department of Police should work with the Department of Home Affairs to close the camp and deport the inhabitants.

The Chairperson remarked that similar situations might be found in other provinces too.

Ms Lindiwe Zulu, Minister of Social Development, thanked Minister Cele for the difficult work done by SAPS. While she acknowledged that there were occasionally police officers who “went rogue”, she appealed for the police force to be supported. There was a good relationship between the Departments of Social Development and Police. A coordinated, cooperative effort was required to deal with crime in general, and GBVF in particular.

Minister Cele reported that police in Gaberone had confronted another cash-in-transit heist the day before, killing nine alleged robbers, including a South African man. It seemed that there were cross-national criminal syndicates at work. SAPS had files on about 11 000 foreign nationals, mainly Zimbabweans and Basotho, many of whom were violent. He also noted that there were 6 000 people currently serving life sentences for crimes such as rape. He offered to brief the Women’s Caucus on these topics.

The Chairperson observed that a very high percentage of women and children were abused in their own homes. She asked the members of the Women’s Caucus to think about what they would do about it. How could they support SAPS and their communities? She noted that culture was sometimes used as a way to hide abuse. How could awareness be brought into communities?

Ms N Maseko-Jele (ANC) requested that the Department of Justice make a presentation on its readiness to implement Bills that the President had recently signed. There was a need to know what types of families perpetrators came from in order to take action to prevent domestic crimes. She recalled that problems with criminalising non-reporting of domestic crimes had emerged during deliberations on the Act. With data from the police, the Department of Social Development could start to identify red flags.

Ms Sharif said it was important that there were shelters available to deal with domestic violence, but it was also a serious problem that 18-year-olds leaving the foster care system, especially women, often had nowhere to go. This contributed to homelessness, violence and poverty. This was something that the Women’s Caucus should discuss.

Consideration and adoption of draft 1st term programme
Ms Mandy Balie, Secretary, Multi-Party Women’s Caucus, said that the next full meeting of the Caucus would be on 31 March.

The Caucus adopted the programme with the understanding that it was a working document that might change.

Ms F Masiko (ANC) noted that 8 March was International Women’s Day. It should feature in the programme in some way. Was Parliament planning to recognise it?

Ms Lesoma confirmed that it was.

The meeting was adjourned

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