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Delay in DNA testing of criminals

Victorian Attorney-General Robert Clark.

Victorian Attorney-General Robert Clark. Photo: Justin McManus

POLICE will have to conduct thousands of DNA tests a year under a state government plan to dramatically increase testing of people convicted of crimes.

However, despite Attorney-General Robert Clark announcing the crackdown - another pillar of the government's tough on law and order campaign - almost two years ago, the new regime will not come into force for at least another year.

''Victoria Police would expect a substantial increase in suspect samples. This will have an impact on caseloads which will be monitored,'' a police spokeswoman said.

In April 2011, Mr Clark said the legislation would allow DNA samples to be taken from anyone convicted of an indictable offence - crimes that attract a jail sentence of two years or more.

At present DNA samples can only be taken from serious criminals such as murderers and rapists, but this would be expanded to include those convicted of assault, threats to kill, stalking, theft and a wider range of drug offences.

The Attorney-General described the proposed laws as a ''vital element in the high-tech fight against crime''. However, a spokesman for Mr Clark said this week the laws are ''expected to be introduced into Parliament later this year''.

A Victoria Police tender document released late last year reveals that the new laws would mean a four-fold increase in the number of mouth DNA swabs police would have to carry out. It says an average of 7300 swabs were carried out every year for the past five years, of which 1500 were for people suspected of crimes. This means the number of tests will balloon to 6000 a year.

''The status of the amendment is cabinet in confidence so unfortunately Logistical Support Branch is unable to provide further information. What we do know is that if the bill is passed, there will be a 12-month period between passage and implementation,'' the tender document says.

The tender is for a contract to supply tamper-proof kits for DNA samples to police. It says there were also an average of 260 DNA blood tests carried out every year and 170 hair sample tests.

Fairfax Media reported in 2011 that the Victoria Police forensic sciences centre had run out of room because the number of DNA samples collected had almost doubled in the previous five years.

Plans to improve services were then shelved because an almost six-month search for more space came up empty-handed. Forensic Services director Karl Kent said at the time that the $6.7 million spent patching up the Macleod site since 2003 was not enough. Demand for forensic services had been growing at more than 9 per cent a year.

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