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139 cases thrown out of court due to DNA and forensic report delays


The National Forensic Sciences Laboratory reportedly has a backlog of more than 200,000 exhibits for criminal cases

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THE POLICE have blamed delays in forensic reports as part of the reason why 139 cases, half of which related to assault, rape and domestic violence, were kicked out of court.

While releasing quarterly crime statistics on Friday, Minister Bheki Cele admitted that the backlog of DNA tests was severely impacting investigations into gender-based violence, rape and other serious cases.

The National Forensic Sciences Laboratory reportedly has a backlog of more than 200,000 exhibits for criminal cases.

On the same day the standing committee on community safety heard that from October to December 2020 the department’s court watching brief unit visited 19 courts and observed as many as 139 cases being dismissed.

At least 76 of those cases were as a result of dockets not being in court and 63 other cases as a result of incomplete investigations.

The top three dismissed cases were 42 cases of assault with grievous bodily harm, 18 cases of rape and nine cases of domestic violence.

The police have instituted disciplinary action against 12 members, mostly for incidents where cases were thrown out because the docket was not at court.

Head of the department Yashina Pillay said the responses they received from police with regards to cases withdrawn from the court roll varied from dockets not taken to court or complainants withdrawing their cases.

“With rape most of the DNA reports were still outstanding and this is obviously linked to the backlog at the forensic laboratory and domestic violence also had dockets that were not at court or the complainant withdrew the matter as well,” she said.

Head of detectives Major-General Jeremy Vearey said often times the reason cases are marked as investigation incomplete is for reasons outside of their control given the waiting times for forensic and medical reports.

“The challenge in SAPS in terms of forensic reports particularly when dealing with biology and forensic analysis is that it involves certain chemicals to be used to process the exhibits and there have been contract management issues that the national commissioner has spoken to and the minister has pronounced on it,” said Vearey.

“What you see is the practical outcome of what that means. You cannot go to the court and explain that we did the analysis and everything is done, it took us six months and the reagents are finally available but we cannot give you the chain of possession of this exhibit while it was there because the exhibit management system is a challenge.

“A magistrate or the state prosecutor is not going to be patient with keeping a case on the roll and we are sitting with a suspect who is maybe in custody who will sit for the next six months or a year because we cannot give a finite date when this issue will be resolved and will take this case off the roll and tell us to come back once we have that vital piece of evidence.

“The department of health reports, like post-mortem or blood samples, is entirely out of our control but the knock-on effect of us not getting these things on time has consequences for us that take the docket off the roll and if the post-mortem report is going to take four months to get then I’m sitting with a murder case on the roll for four months and the magistrate will lose patience with me because we are wasting the court’s time.”