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Friday 21 September 2018
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The DNA of justice

PROFOUND changes can be expected for the criminal justice system as well as society as a whole with the tabling yesterday, at long last, of regulations to enforce DNA laws. The Administration of Justice (Deoxyribonucleic Acid) Regulations, 2018, will allow the State to give effect to the provisions of the Administration of Justice (Deoxyribonucleic Acid) Act.

The potential scope of these measures is wide: they will affect the administration of justice in relation to serious criminal offences ranging from murder to rape. Crucially, they also spell out measures to govern designated officials who will have custody of the Forensic DNA Databank.

“We have an opportunity for the first time in our country to bring to life DNA legislation and put it to work in courts in a specialised environment,” said Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi earlier this week.

That opportunity must not be squandered. All the resources necessary for the successful management of State forensic capacity must now be allocated.

This must include improving the Forensic Sciences Centre, which has long been subject to a shortage of pathologists.

In this regard, it is heartening to learn that the State has already moved to have key officials under the DNA law appointed and to have them given the tools they need to do the job. That said, the law also requires action on the part of several stakeholders, such as the police and even the Chief Personnel Officer who must appoint finalised posts as well as appoint deputy custodians.

It is also laudable that long before tabling the regulations, the State began to put measures in place relating to DNA testing.

A total of 15,000 DNA testing kits are en route. The importance of these kits cannot be overemphasised. They will be used to begin generating the information that is needed to enrich the State’s databank.

It will now be possible for investigators to check DNA samples taken from a scene against a list of individuals and previous crime scene samples.

Samples from members of the Police Service, Prison Service and forensic experts must also be placed in the databank to help narrow investigations by ruling out samples that may relate to people investigating crime.

The tabling of the DNA regulations comes in the same week as the opening of two new purpose-built courts designed to cater to the needs of children who find themselves within the bowels of the criminal justice system.

The opening of two new Children Courts will increase the chances of rehabilitation and could play a big role in reducing recidivism.

While these measures are long overdue, it is undeniable that both will have an enormous impact moving forward, even with storm clouds looming over the Judiciary.

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