21 November 2012

South Africa: SAPS Requires More Forensic Science Laboratories

press release

In a reply to a parliamentary question, the Minister of Police has revealed that there has been a 67% increase in entries at the South African Police Service (SAPS) forensic science laboratories for this current financial year. This admission is not only a clear indication that crime is up massively in South Africa, but equally that SAPS needs to increase the number of forensic science laboratories in this country.

The forensic science laboratories have seen a 67% increase in entries for the period of 1 April to 30 September 2012 in comparison to last year. This equates to 209 431 entries/cases already received this year by the laboratories. Of these entries, 49 294 are still pending as of 1 October.

The reply also revealed that there are still a further 2 459 entries outstanding for the period 2009/2010-2011/2012. This means that the cases related to those entries have not been finalised. If these cases are not finalised then they can't go to court and criminals remain on the street.

Only four forensic science laboratories fall under the SAPS in South Africa. These labs have to deal with cases from all nine provinces. Nor can one discount the fact that much of the crime-related laboratory work goes to the utterly dysfunctional forensic chemistry laboratories that fall under the Health Ministry.

These laboratories play a critical role in the prosecution and conviction of criminals. However, if they are not functioning optimally, court cases depending on forensic evidence can be delayed, lost or dropped.

Until fairly recently, this is precisely what was happening in South Africa, with court case backlogs rising steadily - driven in large part by backlogs in our forensic laboratories. The DA had hoped that we'd moved past the stage when our Forensic Laboratories were in a state of crisis as they created one of the most severe bottlenecks in the entire criminal justice system, with the number of backlogged samples increasing by more than 300%.

Whilst the SAPS have worked hard to reduce the backlog of cases over the last few years, decreasing it to just over 3 000, the tide seems to have turned once again. It is past time that the Minister focused on this division and ensured that the Ministry plans for more forensic science laboratories to be established.

I will be writing to the Minister today to ask whether he has planned to establish forensic science laboratories in each province and if so, when he thinks these will be established.

The sad backsliding that has once again resulted in a backlog of cases, as well as the massive increase of entries which have been received so far this year are a clear indication that we are today reaping the rewards of the disastrous Cele administration. The recently released crime statistics show that the drop in crime levels has more or less stopped. It is obvious that the SAPS is in dire need of more laboratories to help reverse this trend.

The quicker the forensics are done, the quicker justice can be served.

Dianne Kohler Barnard, DA Spokesperson on Police

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