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Key Note Address: Gala Dinner for the 4th Forensic Services Conference: Lt Gen JK Phahlane

Pretoria:  Thursday,  2 March 2017

Programme Director, Brigadier Moeng
The Host, the Acting Divisional Commissioner of Forensic Services, Maj Gen Mangale
Lt Gen Mothiba, Regional Commissioner of Management Intervention
Lt Gen Nkomo, the Divisional Commissioner of Detective Services
Maj Gen Makhele, the Acting Divisional Commissioner of Crime Intelligence
Maj Gen Ngokha, Head of the Forensic Science Laboratory
Maj Gen Manamela, Head of Quality Management
Senior officers of the South African Police Service
Senior managers and representatives of other government departments
International experts and speakers
Members of the academia and national speakers from various institutions
Conference delegates and members of the South African Police Service at large

Good Evening

The fourth Forensic Services Conference has come to an end hence our gathering here tonight to celebrate our achievements in advancing the lessons learnt and best practices shared over the past four days. We pride ourselves as the South African Police Service and in particular as the Forensic Services Division for having hosted a successful conference and creating a platform for learning which is rated highly on our bi-annual agenda.

It is against this background that I consider myself to be honoured and privileged in being granted the opportunity to thank you all for attending and participating in the fourth Forensic Services.  This conference has indeed met – and in some ways even exceeded - our expectations.  Robust discussions were held and innovative ideas shared to improve forensic services and thereby to contribute more significantly to the fight against crime.  

It became evident during the deliberations of this week that emphasis must be placed on quality examinations and on making forensic services more accessible to investigators.

This conference brought together some of the finest forensic examiners and enquiring minds in our region and from across the globe. It is reassuring that we applied collective wisdom to advocate discussions and provide solutions to areas that pose challenges in the application of forensic services. The lessons learnt must now be institutionalised in learning programmes and in the optimization of work processes.

It is encouraging to note the volume of forensic examiners who were willing to participate in the conference by submitting paper presentations and posters, thus demonstrating passion in the forensics field. Many of the paper presentations were focused on experience and best practices acquired in real case studies. This reveals an eagerness not only to learn, but also to share acquired knowledge.

Some of the many best practices taken from this conference are:

  • The collaboration of law enforcement with the forensic medical examiners/pathologists in investigating crimes which involve the deceased, including strengthening the relationship between key role players involved in the investigation of crime and the Criminal Justice System at large
  • The need for the establishment of a forensic strategy which encompasses proactive and reactive interventions using forensic intelligence in all spheres of policing
  • The identification of the benefits of a Quality Management System in line with international standards which will give confidence to our customers
  • The collaboration of law enforcement with academia on forensic research and development in the country, including a contribution towards forensic curricula
  • The direct involvement of all levels of management, including forensic examiners at grass roots level, in the establishment and implementation of the Quality Management System;
  • The improvement of internal communication on organizational policies, processes and practices; including compliance monitoring and evaluation.

One of the important lessons learnt during the conference was the need to follow an integrated multi-disciplinary approach and ensure a close working collaboration between the different environments in law enforcement. Forensic Services must build on the established forums between the Divisions: Detective Services, Crime Intelligence and Visible Policing. The role that the National Prosecuting Authority plays during the investigative phase and obviously during the prosecution phase of cases must not be underestimated. Cases that have the same suspect across jurisdictions and provincial borders should be tried together.

The “DNA & Fingerprints Act” provides us with the required legal framework to ensure that forensic DNA and Fingerprint examinations becomes one of the most powerful investigative tools available for law enforcement to identify perpetrators of crime and to exonerate the innocent.  It would be a grave mistake if we focus all our efforts solely on forensic DNA and fingerprint evidence, ignoring other forensic evidence at crime scenes. We need to continually empower our members who attend and process crime scenes, including the first responder, to enable them to understand their roles, responsibilities and to respect the crime scene. During the previous forensic conferences, we agreed on the following key resolutions:

  • To improve the co-operation and communication between first responders, detectives and forensic examiners
  • To encourage and create forums for criminal investigators, detectives, forensic examiners, academia and service providers of forensic products to engage and interface on forensic science and related issues. This engagement will improve the standards applied in the forensic value chain and make a positive impact in the investigation of crime
    To review the prescripts and training manuals for crime scene management
  • To provide enabling mechanisms to foster greater professional and ethical conduct in the field of forensic services
    To create a professional body for forensic science practitioners in South Africa.Today we can report progress in realising these resolutions. There is increasing cooperation between our members from Visible Policing, Detective Services and Forensic Services at different levels of engagement. A number of regular forums have been established whereby these members meet. Representatives from the Division: Forensic Services have become regular attendees of SAPS Provincial and Cluster meetings including performance review sessions.  A Programme 3 review meeting has been established whereby the senior management of Detective Services and Forensic Services engage on a quarterly basis on improving the provision and utilisation of forensic services. A steering committee has also been established between the Divisions of Detective Services, Visible Policing, Crime Intelligence and Forensic Services to monitor progress made on following-up the arrest of the most wanted criminals and arrested serial and multiple offenders that are linked through forensic investigative leads.

On-going planned forensic awareness programmes are being conducted to educate first responders and detectives on forensic services. The revised training programme for crime scene examiners was introduced during this financial year. The regular publishing of the forensic fact files has become so popular amongst our members in SAPS that they eagerly awaiting the next article to learn some practical application that will prove useful in their day-to-day investigations.

The Divisions: Human Resource Development and Detective Services are now actively reviewing the training manuals and programmes to improve crime scene management and processing. The National Instruction 1 of 2015 to support crime scene management clarifies the roles and responsibilities of the first responders at the crime scene, the detective and crime scene examiners by also enforcing quality standards at the crime scene.

The Division: Forensic Services has integrated the Quality Management System based on the international ISO standards such as ISO9001, ISO17025 and ISO17020 and to include occupational Health & Safety laboratory issues. This is pivotal in the process of accrediting the forensic services.

Some of the most important principles in any quality management system, is demonstrable management commitment, improved communication and stakeholder consultation.

We are encouraging Operational Section Heads and commanders to embrace the Quality Management System, take ownership and walk-the-talk. Every operational meeting must be focussed on continual improvement. Non-conformance and customer complaints must be used as opportunities to identify shortcomings in our processes in order for continuous improvement. The process towards the path of accrediting our forensic test methods must gain momentum and we want to see tangible outcomes in the 2017/2018 financial year.

The South African Police Service and the Department of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation have commissioned an evaluation of the Incremental Investment in Forensic Services. Since 2009, additional funding of over R8 billion was made available to recruit forensic personnel, train existing staff, purchase specialised equipment, modernise systems, and fund the operations of the Division: Forensic Services. The Incremental Investment in Forensic Services is one of the interventions under the Seven-Point Plan approved by Cabinet in 2007. The Seven-Point Plan seeks to build capacity in the Criminal Justice System to tackle the high levels of crime in South Africa. Forensic Services was chosen as the focal point for the additional funding because it influences the effectiveness of subsequent investigations, prosecutions, and judicial proceedings within the CJS. The final report in the evaluation of the Incremental Investment in Forensic Services has now been released by the Department of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation. Some of the key findings from this evaluation are as follows:The Incremental Investment in Forensic Services has addressed many of the operational constraints. The additional funding allocated has allowed the SAPS to expand the reach of crime scene services, to improve crime scene attendance and the quality of crime scene evidence.

  • There has been a considerable improvement in the efficiency of forensic services. Turnaround times and the backlog of cases have improved. Prosecutors also report substantial improvements in the quality of forensic evidence submitted to courts.
  • There are early indications that forensic products are having a positive impact on the Criminal Justice System. Across a sample of 11 crime types, the evaluation finds that the use of forensic evidence has increased in almost all crime categories. Furthermore, the evidence suggests that prosecutors are more likely to bring charges in cases where forensic evidence is present.
  • Crucially, the analysis shows that the percentage of cases with forensic evidence resulting in a guilty verdict has increased. This is especially so in respect of priority crimes such as murder and rape, and suggests that forensic evidence now plays a major role in securing judicial outcomes.

A need to continually improve forensic services and the use of a multi-disciplinary approach involving all investigative role players must be emphasized in the investigation of crime.

The success of the mutli-disciplinary approach and stakeholder collaboration yielded positive results in the following cases:

On 21 October 2015 during the early hours of the morning, eight members of the Ngwabe family were brutally attacked whilst still in their beds in the Msinsini area .Seven of them died on the scene and one was taken to hospital. It was established that they had been hacked to death. The deceased included infants between the ages of 1 to 4 years, and others were between 15 and 60 years old. The crime scenes were processed by members of Division Forensic services. The excellent cooperation between the Divisions: Forensic Services and Detectives and the NPA resulted in the case being taken to the Pietermaritzburg High Court within a week of the crime being committed. The suspects were sentenced to life imprisonment.

After four years of investigation and two years of courtroom battles, the Betty Ketani case has been closed. Judge Ranchod found Carrington Laughton and two police officers who are brothers, Carel and David Ranger, guilty of killing Betty Ketani, a mother-of-three, who moved to Johannesburg in search of a job. This case has been described by the NPA as a “landmark case”.  The case came to light when a “confession letter” was found under a carpet during routine maintenance at a house in Kenilworth, Johannesburg at the end of March 2012. The letter related to a murder committed 13 years earlier in 1999.  The body of the deceased, Betty Ketani, was never found. The forensic handwriting examiner gave oral evidence in the case and concluded that the signature and the printed matter on the last page of the letter were that of the accused. The presiding officer acknowledged that the handwriting analysis, along with DNA evidence and the testimony of three accomplice witnesses weighed heavily on his decision to convict the accused. Even though one piece of evidence on its own might not have been sufficient to be conclusive, Ranchod’s verdict was reached by taking into account forensic and testimonial evidence. The combination of the various pieces of evidence proved that the written confession found under a carpet was the genuine article, and the author of the letter was the accused, Carrington Laughton. Seventeen years after the murder, Betty Ketani’s family have finally found justice.

Cases such as these demonstrate the power of forensic evidence in resolving crime.

The effect of crime is the disintegration of nations and it distorts the moral fibre of society, thus undermining the rule of law. It has to be fought with all the power and the means at our disposal.

We should not underestimate the resolve of these criminals. Criminal gangs will employ every trick in the book to disrupt, disorganise, and destabilise law enforcement through fraud, bribery and corruption and by direct intimidation.

We commit through our security cluster network to co-operate in our endeavours to improve our practices. In turn this will assist our work as a collective in identifying better forensic fighting tools.

It is our task, as individuals and as a collective to safeguard the firmness and purity of law enforcement.  It is also our duty to jealously protect our collaborative efforts as a potent force for hope and a symbol of triumph over evil. 

We must continue to put our efforts together and strive to make significant inroads in our fight against crime in order to continually pursue the vision that all South Africans are and feel safe.

I thank you.