KUALA LUMPUR, 6 Oct 2008: Instead of building a DNA databank, the Bar Council wants the government to use the monies that would be allocated for it under the DNA Identification Bill 2008, on crime prevention.
Malaysian Bar vice-president Ragunath Kesavan said the Bar Council was concerned about the need for such a Bill at this juncture, adding that maintaining a DNA databank would be costly.
“The limited use of DNA in solving and prosecuting crimes may not justify the high cost of maintaining the databank,” he said in a press release today.
Instead, he said public funds could be used for concrete crime prevention measures including “increasing police personnel for street patrols, setting up more police beats, improving training facilities, upgrading the equipment and support systems at all police stations, and improving the salary structure for police personnel.”
The Bill was tabled in Parliament in August 2008 to fight crime more effectively. The Bill contains provisions to compel DNA testing, to establish a national DNA databank, and regulate the use of DNA profiles.
Home Minister Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar has told Parliament that DNA profiling is “completely transparent and scientific”, can only “tell the truth”, and will thus, not result in any wrongful convictions.
However, Ragunath pointed out that the Bill has been criticised, including for its lack of legal safeguards and for the excessive powers it gives the police and the minister.
Other criticisms include the assumption that DNA profiling is a precise and infallible science, and that relevant stakeholders have not been consulted over the Bill.
“One aspect of the Bill that has come under particular attack is the conclusive evidence clause, which provides that DNA evidence would be conclusive proof. As a result, the accused cannot challenge the veracity and authenticity of DNA samples by presenting other forms of evidence,” Ragunath said.
He added that the Bill was also problematic because it permits DNA samples to be taken from too wide a range of persons, and would punish those who refuse to provide DNA samples.
“Coupled with the lack of a Data Protection Act in Malaysia, there are grave concerns that the Bill would result in infringements on privacy rights,” he said.
In light of these concerns, the Bar Council will hold a public forum on the Bill, featuring lawyers and DNA experts, on 13 Oct 2008.
The forum, which is open to the public for free, will be held at 5.00pm at the Bar Council Auditorium on Leboh Pasar Besar in Kuala Lumpur.
Ragunath said the Bar Council would incorporate public feedback from the forum in formulating its input to the government.
Syed Hamid has been quoted as saying that concerns about the Bill should be voiced before it was tabled at the committee stage in December.