Star (Used by permission)
Comment by Baradan Kuppusamy
The controversial DNA Identification Bill has been said to have many areas of concern, triggering a walkout among Opposition MPs. Is there merit for the bill to be discussed further?
THE DNA Identification Bill is under a cloud after Opposition MPs walked out of Parliament on Tuesday over some of its provisions.
The Government argues that the bill was not just thought up last month, but was at least six years in the making and a lot of study and research had gone into it.
Furthermore, it is based on similar laws in other advanced countries.
Home Minister Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar told Parliament the bill is not “going to prove anything that you have not done”. In a nutshell, DNA profiling will not bluff, it can only tell the truth.
It also regulates and governs the procedures for taking, storing and keeping a DNA data bank. The Government says such a bank is common in the world now and is a powerful tool to fight crime.
“The whole procedure is highly professional and completely transparent and scientific,” Syed Hamid said.
Despite these assurances, Opposition MPs walked out, saying there is clearly a case for the Government to send the controversial Bill to a select committee to review several of the provisions that intrude on privacy, human rights and established legal principles.
The MPs argued that people should be scared of the wide–ranging powers the bill gives to the police and the future head of the proposed DNA Data Bank and the minister who has powers to direct the bank chief.
Particularly, two provisions were singled out – one allowing a senior police officer to head the data bank, and second that the data, when produced in court, is absolute and must be accepted as unquestionable evidence by the judge.
The assumption behind these provisions is that DNA profiling is an exact, perfect science and infallible and therefore the findings are absolute and cannot be questioned.
It puts the accused, his lawyers and the judge and the very principle that one is innocent until proven guilty subject to the findings of a laboratory technician.
The truth, experts say, is that DNA profiling has setbacks, as argued by Selayang MP William Leong in and outside Parliament.
Mistakes happen, samples can get mixed up and innocent people have been sent to prison, he said.
It is understandable that police are mesmerised by the power of the new tool to nail criminals and win easy convictions in court, but experience across the world shows that the tool can be easily misused.
“The bill fails to provide any safeguards to keep the integrity and accuracy of the extracted DNA information,” said Leong.
“Without the safeguards, the credibility of both the bill and the procedures to extract, store and use DNA profiles are compromised and unacceptable,” he added.
Besides, he said, Malaysia employs the death sentence for a variety of crimes and there is no way to undo the injustice once an innocent person is wrongly convicted based entirely on DNA profiles, as the new law would allow.
This possibility alone is enough reason to hold back and let a select committee examine the law, he said.
Such a committee will have both government and the opposition lawmakers as members and the power to call individuals to give expert evidence.
With all–round participation in the committee, it can reshape the bill and add the required safeguards.
DNA profiling is not new and is already in use but always in combination with other evidence, and the judge has the discretion to weigh all the evidence before him.
Under the proposed legislation, the judge is compelled by law to accept DNA evidence, thus in one blow removing the accused's right to challenge the evidence and the judge’s discretion to weigh all the evidence.
Again, almost anybody can be a suspect – even traffic offenders – and be required to give blood samples for DNA profiling, failing which offenders can be punished with a RM10,000 fine or a year in jail.
“DNA testing is too powerful a tool 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,” said Sungei Siput MP Dr Jeyakumar Devaraj.
“Make no mistake, this is a bad law with very serious implications,” he said.
Currently, the Chemistry Department does DNA profiling and their officers appear in court to present their findings and are questioned by defence lawyers, who often bring outside experts to rebut.
There is therefore a clear case, opposition lawmakers argue, to not rush the bill but pull back and let a parliamentary select committee review several provisions to add safeguards in the interest of justice and human rights.