Forensic Lab Delays Affecting Finalization Of NC Cases

Andrew Louw, MPL

DA Northern Cape: Provincial Leader

The Democratic Alliance is concerned that delays in obtaining results from institutions such as the Forensic Science Laboratory and the Local Criminal Record Centre are affecting the finalization of criminal cases in the Northern Cape. Considering that the province has some of the highest rape statistics in the country, this does not bode well for combating sexual assaults. Instead, it directly undermines any efforts to combat sexual violence and other crimes.

I am personally aware of the case of a young woman who was raped and seriously injured in the process. However, due to the challenges facing laboratories, the samples disappeared.

According to a report by the Public Service Commission (PSC), obtaining results from such institutions takes the Northern Cape a very long time. For instance, the turn-around time for receiving a report, such as a criminal record of a suspect with previous convictions, takes an average of two months. Meanwhile forensic blood alcohol tests and drug analysis take at least seven to eight months. Such delays pose serious challenges for detective services as they contribute to the cases that remain outstanding and cannot be taken to court, thus impacting negatively on the administration of justice.

The DA is extremely concerned that Forensic Laboratories now serve as one of the most severe bottlenecks in the entire criminal justice system, hampering the prosecution and conviction of criminals in the province and the rest of the country. As a result of the long delays in processing samples, cases are regularly being withdrawn from court. Forensic experts have raised numerous concerns about these issues over the past years but the police top brass have been slow to give the forensic labs the requisite attention.

The problems facing the Forensic Laboratories can, however, be resolved but this will require the necessary political will on both a provincial and a national level. The DA proposes removing both the Forensic Science Laboratory from the SAPS and the Forensic Chemistry Laboratories from the Department of Health, and to merge them into a Forensic Laboratory Service which would operate as a private-public partnership. The Forensic Laboratory Service would be independent from the SAPS and Health, and would be legally bound by strict operating conditions and service delivery targets. The DA further proposes building more labs; focusing on expertise and training; eradicating vacancies, bolstering human resources management and staff retention policies; and ensuring proper responsibility.

The sooner the DA’s proposals are implemented, the sooner crimes such as rape will be dealt with and hopefully those guilty of despicable wrongs will find themselves behind bars.

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