DNA Bill: Draconian law in the offing

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DNA testing is a powerful tool – too powerful to be placed in the hands of a police force that has shown that it can be swayed by the executive to go after political opponents, warns Dr Jeyakumar Devaraj.

The BN Government has postponed further discussion – the committee stage – of the DNA bill to after the Budget. However the government has already got the DNA Bill through the Policy stage.

There are several aspects of the DNA Bill that should worry all right-minded Malaysians.

Let me enumerate some of these:

  • Section 7 of the proposed bill empowers the Minister of  Home Affairs to appoint a police officer not below the rank of Deputy Commissioner of Police as the Head of the Forensic DNA Databank. Some of us objected to this saying that there should be clear separation of powers. Collection, storing and testing of body fluids of suspects should be handled by a body that is independent of the police.
  • Section 13 which deals with the collection of non-intimate samples such as scalp hair, buccal swabs and saliva, states under subsection 7, that “a police officer may use all means necessary for the purpose of taking of a non-intimate sample”. Several among us brought this up. What does “all means necessary” mean in the case of a suspect who is in police custody?
  • Section 14 of the proposed bill states that anyone who refuses to give a sample or obstructs the taking of such sample commits on offence and upon conviction can be fined up to RM10,000 or imprisoned for a period of up to a year! How will the police fail to get a sample given section 13(7)?
  • Section 24 of the Bill states that “not withstanding any written law o the contrary, any information from the DNA Databank shall be admissible as conclusive proof of the DNA identification in any proceedings in any court”. This seems to mean the person being charged cannot ask for an independent review of the DNA evidence. The opinion of the DNA Bank cannot be queried in a court of law.
  • Section 25 specifies that no action or prosecution shall be brought in any court against the Minister or any DNA Databank personnel in respect of any act, neglect, default or omission done by him in good faith.
  • In addition to these, there are no sections dealing with the handling of left over samples. How they should be destroyed etc. The possibility of  the police keeping some of that material to later implicate that person in another crime is something that cannot be ruled out.
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DNA testing is a powerful tool – too powerful to be placed in the hands of a police force that has shown that it can be swayed by the executive to go after political opponents, and I am not referring to only Anwar Ibrahim. So many of the people arrested under the ISA faced a hostile police force which concocted considerable evidence to justify their arrest and detention.

As the government has postponed the committee stage of the Bill’s passage to the sitting in October, there is still time to make representation to the Minister. I would therefore urge public interest groups to take up these issues with the government while at the same time highlighting it to the public.

Make no mistake, this is a bad law with very serious implications.

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