Lords demand DNA database deletions
Ermine-clad defenders of our liberty
The House of Lords forced another climb-down by the government yesterday by voting to amend the rules for the DNA database to allow innocent people to have their DNA samples destroyed and removed from the database.
The Lords heard that existing guidelines made it all but impossible to get off the database once you were on it. The rules say that standard practice should be to reject out of hand first requests: “In the first instance applicants should be sent a letter informing them that the samples and the associated PNC record are lawfully held and that their request for deletion/destruction is refused.”
Chief Police officers get the final say in deleting records but the rules remind them that this would only be in exceptional cases. The example provided in guidelines is if everyone in a building is arrested and has DNA forcibly taken after the discovery of a body. If this body subsequently turns out to have died of natural causes there might be an argument for deleting those people's DNA records.
Baroness Hanham summed up the amendment: "The purpose of the amendment is to ensure that anyone who is on the database has access to guidelines that will tell them how to get off the database ... Those who are innocent should not be on any database. They should not be under the eye of the law of this country. They are innocent. They have no truck with the law and their DNA should not passed to Europe for whatever reason."
What is needed instead is a clear, publicly available summary of rules for taking and storing DNA samples.
Hanham said: "Regulations laying out the guidelines on the whys, wherefores and means of DNA and other samples being either retained on or removed from the police national computer that are clear, explicit and user-friendly are long overdue. Changes to the whole system during the passage of the Criminal Justice Act in 2001, which turned the assumption of the destruction of DNA at the end of a case into the assumption of retention, upset the presumption of innocence. The balance at present is not in favour of the innocent.
"Endless justifications may be put forward by those who believe that the current use of the database is too restricted and should be widened into one that is universal. However, it is perhaps now time to listen to the voices of those in favour of the current situation, and of those who are frankly appalled by the possibility of having their identifying materials held indefinitely by the police."
The amendment was passed by 161 votes in favour versus 150 against. Hansard's transcript of the debate is here. ®
Why must we protect against purchased deletion? Any such deletion would have a trail in other areas: the bank account suddenly getting out of the red, long holidays "at a friends house". Hookers and blackjack.
And the scenario is so unlikely that why should EACH AND EVERY CITIZEN be dinged by a "protective" measure?
If you hear a "wop..wop..wop" it's all in your mind.
The only problem with the American system is that it's still controlled by two parties who are both bought off by big business and special interest groups (whether RIAA or nutty religious) or are afraid of their own shadows and fail to stand up on their hind legs and make a show of things.
Would that any one of them had the courage to tell all the special interests to F off and do what is right for the country instead of worrying about "how much money did I bring back to my state or i'll Fail at next standing for election".
The Lords haven't done anything that can't be undone by the Commons. The Lords have voted to amend part of the current Counter Terrorism Bill rather than pass it unchanged. The amended bill now has to go back to the House of Commons where the government can simply remove the amendment, pass *that* version of the Bill and send THAT back to the Lords for a further reading. The Lords could then choose to re-amend the bill and send that back - so-called Parliamentary Ping Pong - when all sorts of loathsome government toadies come out of the wood work to rail against the Lords frustrating democracy.
However, I don't think it'll go that far, because of Parliamentary timing. The current session is coming to an end later this month and it is unusual for a bill to be carried from one session to another. If the bill is not given Royal Approval before Parliament is preroged then the whole bill falls and must be reintroduced from the very beginning. So the government will be expecting the Lords to accept Parliamentary Supremacy and to accept the original version passed by the Commons on the grounds that the House of Commons (and don't laugh now) represents the will of the people - okay take a few minutes to compose yourselves.
For the Lords to stand firm and refuse to let the Commons get its way would be incredible. The government could choose to force the bill through using one of the two Parliament Acts, but I'm not sure if this is one of the bills the PAs are supposed to apply to.
All of which shows why the British model of the legislature is broken. We still have a bicamaral assembly, but the Commons has decided that all of the power is held in one chamber. Much better if we had either a unicamaral parliament or the American model of two elected chambers with different voting systems and different election dates. The Labour Party approach to reforming the HoL would be to make it just as toadying to the executive as the Commons. So like most of the people here, I'm with the Lords on this one.
Now if only we could get a proper consitution...