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Citizens's panel demands policing for DNA database

But not by the police

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A "Citizens' Inquiry" into the Forensic Use of DNA and National DNA Database is calling for proper public debate into the issues raised by the database, education of the public about their rights and an independent body to oversee the development of the database.

The Citizens' Inquiry was made up of 30 people drafted in to help the Human Genetics Commission find out what the public thinks about the database.

The 30 people were not just quizzed on their views - they met various "experts" to learn more and discussed the issues over a period of weeks. The panel produced some unanimous recommendations but also split on some key issues.

Among the unanimous recommendations were a public awareness campaign, specific information for suspects who have their DNA taken, better information for juries dealing with DNA evidence and a commission to oversee the database and publish an annual report.

Panel members were drawn from Birmingham and Glasgow. There are some differences between the regulation of DNA databases in Scotland and the rest of the UK. Children as young as 8 can have samples taken by Scottish police and entered on the database. For England and Wales kids must be over 10.

The panel generally favoured the Scottish system - which does not record the ethnicity of people who have samples taken and also deletes profiles for people not charged with a crime or acquitted. It was noted that if England and Wales did not record ethnicity we would not know how skewed the figures are - one third of young black British men are now on the database. A majority of people believed Scottish, English and Welsh regulations should be brought together.

But the group also showed how divided opinion is on these issues. A minority argued that a universal database was preferable to the existing system - that way no one could claim to be "criminalised" by being on it. A minority supported DNA testing every child at birth.

Some argued that samples should be kept for ever while a majority believed the length of time samples are kept should be proportionate to the crime committed.

A majority supported the deletion of records and samples of people once they're found innocent or not charged with an offence. But a minority believed such records should be kept regardless of guilt or innocence - some even believed they should be kept up to five years after death in case a crime comes to light.

The HGC will now run a consultation exercise until 7 November. It will then present its final report in early 2009. ®

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