The Bar Association of Guyana has expressed its unease over the Government’s move to amend the Police Act to allow the Police to take the DNA of any person taken into lawful custody.
The Bar Association said the proposed amendment is “troubling”, adding that it only became aware of the proposed amendment from a media report and was never consulted on the proposed move.
The Bill proposes to amend section 25 of the Police Act, Cap. 16:01 to empower a member of the Police Force, for the purpose of identification, to take the DNA sample of any person who may from time to time be in lawful custody.
But the Bar Association sees any such move as infringing on the constitutional rights of citizens.
“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 Bar Association said in a statement.
The Association said the bill does not enjoy its support and it will challenge it once the government moves ahead with the Bill in its current form.
“The Bar Association expresses its deep concern on the said proposed amendment in its current form and calls for its forthwith withdrawal; to be reconsidered with due and proper consultation, which is expected and required in a democratic society”, the statement said.
According to the Association, the government is treading on dangerous grounds since section 25 (2) of the said Act makes provision in the case of refusal of a person to submit to same, to be taken before a Magistrate.
“However, 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 statement pointed out.
According to the Bar Association, “‘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 association said the proposed amendment is so wide that it lays fertile ground for much mischief in the event of its misuse, without due and proper safeguards.