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Guyana Bar Association to challenge collection of DNA samples from suspects in custody

Last Updated on Monday, 14 June 2021, 22:22 by Denis Chabrol

Guyana Bar Association

The Guyana Bar Association (GBA) on Monday strenuously objected to proposed amendments to the law to allow police to collect DNA samples from suspects in custody without a court order, and vowed to challenge the move should government go ahead with the Bill.

“The said proposed amendment does not have the support of the Bar Association and will be met with challenge should it proceed in its current form,” the association said.

The GBA is objecting to the proposed amendment to the Police Act that states that the intention is to use Deoxyribonucleic Acid (DNA) information for the purpose of identification of persons in lawful custody by any member of the force. The explanatory note states that the effect of this amendment is that in addition to measurements, photographs and fingerprint impressions, a member of the force can take and record DNA information of a person in lawful custody for the purpose of identification.”

“‘DNA’ evidence is a useful tool in proving the guilt or innocence of an accused. However, the obtaining of that information merely on arrest, without consent or Order of Court, is alarming and dangerous. Generally, ‘DNA’ can only be obtained from the body by invasive means, which also raises concerns of state sanctioned assault, if done without consent,” the GBA states.

But the lawyers’ organisation says it was  not consulted about the amendments to the Police Act , in particular the one that will empower police to collect DNA information from suspects . “The proposed amendment, if passed in its current form, without more, can result in the gross erosion and infringement of a person’s constitutional rights. Inter alia, Article 143 of the constitution protects against the search of a person without his/her consent or an Order of the Court. The Bar Association therefore finds it wholly unacceptable that the power to obtain ‘DNA’ from the body, would be placed in the hands of a member of the Police Force without oversight and sufficient safeguards,” the association states.

The GBA notes that the Bill makes provision for persons, who refuse to allow DNA samples to be taken by police, to be taken before a Magistrate. But the association says the threshold is low as the Magistrate only needs to be satisfied that the person is in lawful custody. “No consideration is required to be given to any other factor or circumstance including whether the ‘DNA’ is required in connection with the offence, there is sufficient evidence to ground a charge, the nature of the offence and or how the DNA is to be obtained or secured,” the GBA adds.

The GBA feared that the proposed amendment was so wide that it opens the possibility of “fertile ground” for much mischief in the event of its misuse, without due and proper safeguards.

Expressing deep concern at the proposed amendment,  the GBA called for its immediate withdrawal and for it to be reconsidered with “due and proper” consultation which is expected in a democratic society.