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Sunday, June 18, 2017

In 2000, the then UNC government passed the Deoxyribonucleic (DNA) Identification Act (“the 2000 DNA Act”), which was intended to be at the forefront of the fight against crime by providing for DNA forensic analysis and allowing DNA reports to be put into evidence.

You don’t need to be a scientist to know of the usefulness and accuracy of DNA forensic analysis.

Put simply, it is used to identify and convict perpetrators of crime. Policing without it is not modern policing.

So critical is it for detection and use as an evidential tool to secure convictions that no modern system of the administration of criminal justice can exist without it. It is pure science, not reliant upon evidence from—as is sadly the case in our country—frightened, vulnerable and often reluctant witnesses.

The 2000 DNA Act—which allowed taking DNA samples from criminal suspects with their consent and by court order without consent was assented to in July 2000 and was to come into force on a date to be fixed by the President—read “the Cabinet”—by proclamation.

Obviously it could not sensibly be brought into force until the necessary infrastructure was put in place for it to be effectively implemented and administered, which was bound to take some time.

Unfortunately for us all, when the PNM was illegally put into office in December 2001 it sat back and did nothing to staff and equip the Forensic Science Centre and never proclaimed the 2000 DNA Act.

We all remember the violence, murders, kidnappings and other serious crimes that escalated while the 2001/2002 and 2002/2007 PNM governments fiddled.

It was reported that way back in March 2004, then PNM minister of national security Martin Joseph in answer to a question in Parliament as to why the 2000 DNA Act had not yet been proclaimed, stated: “The proclamation of the DNA Act, 2000 is dependent upon the achievement of a state of technical readiness by the Forensic Science Centre and the completion of regulations to give effect to the Act…the Director of the Centre has advised that it should attain readiness by April 2004. With regard to the enabling regulations…it is anticipated that the exercise will be completed by the end of March 2004”.

More than two years later, nothing was done when in June 2006 the same minister announced that: “the current DNA legislation is being reviewed with an aim to introduce new legislation later this year”.

So six years and hundreds of murders and serious crimes later, it was as if the 2000 DNA Act never was.

Then came the 2007 DNA Act, passed by the PNM in 2007, which repealed the UNC’s 2000 DNA Act and which, like its predecessor, gathered dust as nothing was done to implement it. Worse still, it was found by the courts to be a botched piece of legislation, because while it empowered the courts to order that a DNA sample be taken from an unwilling “suspect”, it did not allow the courts to make any such order against unwilling convicts and people charged, who the courts felt would comprise the majority of people in the yet to be established DNA database.

It appeared that the 2007 DNA fell way short compared to the 2000 DNA Act

Five years later, and 12 years after the 2000 DNA Act, the PP passed the Administration of Justice (Deoxyribonucleic) Act, 2012 (“the 2012 DNA Act”) with great fanfare, designed to cure the flaws in the PNM’s 2007 DNA Act.

However, like the PNM, the PP did nothing meaningful to implement its own act. This pattern of bringing legislation to Parliament, debating it and then ignoring it, signifying “the nothing” in the Shakespearean verse, is becoming all too regular. Governance thus becomes illusory because the lives of our citizens remain unimproved.

To date, DNA forensic analysis has not played any substantial role in criminal detection and conviction. That this has been allowed to happen even though it was intended to be a crucial part of policing and justice 17 long years ago is a disaster. It speaks to inertia and a lack of leadership by the PNM, then by the PP, and now again by the PNM.

The sorry state of affairs was confirmed by the Joint Select Committee on National Security in its Report to Parliament on June 1, this year. The report pointed to the failure by “the relevant stakeholders”, which included the Ministry of National Security, the Commissioner of Police, and the Chief Personnel Officer, to push forward the establishment of the DNA databank, found that the challenges preventing the Forensic Science Centre from performing effectively were “largely unresolved” and that requirements outlined by the Forensic Science Centre to the Ministry of National Security were “largely unfulfilled”, and noted that regulations under the act had not been made.

So, in June 2017, we still have not, to use the words of the PNM minister in 2004, achieved “a state of technical readiness by the Forensic Science Centre” or “the completion of regulations to give effect to the act”.

As usual, the leadership runs away evading responsibility.

So much was made clear when the chairman of the same committee, Minister of Public Utilities Fitzgerald Hinds, immediately after the report was laid, defended the Minister of National Security for the mess by stating that while the minister is responsible for policy and providing resources through the Ministry of Finance he does not “implement”. Blame everyone else, not me.

Seventeen years and three governments later, do they truly expect us to believe they are doing all they can to solve crime? I think not.

​Mickela Panday


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