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Government ready to round up opinions on DNA database

Consultation to close on Friday

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If you’d like to express a view about what the government should do with its guidelines on the keeping of DNA samples, you have just three days left to do so.

That is if you wish to respond to a consultation – "Keeping the right people on the DNA database" - currently being run by the Home Office and intended "to promote public debate on how long we should retain fingerprints and DNA".

The consultation became necessary late last year, when the European Court of Human Rights ruled in the case of "S and Marper" that it was illegal for the government to retain DNA profiles and fingerprints belonging to two men never convicted of any crime.

A key feature of that judgment was the court’s dislike of the "blanket and indiscriminate nature of the power of retention in England and Wales".

This is in contrast to Scotland, where s18A of the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995 means that DNA samples are "retained from all convicted persons indefinitely, but would be retained from unconvicted persons only if proceedings were raised against them for a relevant sexual or violent offence".

DNA samples are retained for up to three years, with scope for an extension on application to a Sheriff.

The Home Office consultation therefore proposes

  • The destruction of all samples taken from suspects on arrest, whether the individual goes on to be convicted or not
  • Indefinite retention of DNA profiles for adults convicted of a recordable offence
  • Six year retention for adults arrested but not convicted for a non-serious recordable offence
  • Twelve year retention for adults arrested but not convicted for a serious violent or sexual offence or terrorism-related offence
  • No retention of profiles from individuals volunteering to have their DNA taken

The paper proposes retention of all fingerprints, with deletion after six years for those arrested but not convicted; and after 12 years for those arrested and not convicted of violent sexual or terrorist related offences.

It also admits there may be exceptional grounds for earlier destruction of profiles, such as an unlawful or wrongful arrest, and suggests that standard procedures may be put in place for the removal of such data.

The consultation implies an even-handed approach, stating that "it is not the purpose of this consultation paper to rehearse the arguments in the case". Appendix B, which contains a review of the S and Marper case by the Jill Dando Institute, might be considered to do just that. Overall, the paper focuses on crime detection, rather than privacy. It opens with a foreword from former Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, who is fulsome in her praise of DNA as a crime-fighting tool.

Where cases are quoted – as insets throughout the document – they include material such as this, taken from a letter by Linda Bowman to the Evening Standard earlier this year: "It is the only deterrent that will stop serious crimes being committed. I am a mother of four and I have five grandchildren, I would not worry about any of their details being held on a computer and everyone in our family feels the same way. I am sick to death of the people who complain about this idea. They have no idea what families like mine have been through."

Meanwhile, a number of high profile cases in which DNA featured have recently hit the headlines. At the weekend, the Telegraph reported that the youth identified as S in the original ruling had since been caught committing a drug crime.

Senior Police Officers are quoted as saying this is "highly significant" and that it lends support to the argument for keeping samples from all arrests, whether offences are proved or not.

Last Thursday, the BBC ran a ground-breaking exposé of a case where restrictions on DNA sampling were held to have provided a loophole that allowed a rapist to escape justice.

The appearance of these cases, in the week before the consultation closes, may – or may not – be mere co-incidence.

Those wishing to comment further on the Government and Police position should pick up a copy of the consultation paper from the Home Office website, and e-mail their responses to the Home Office by no later than 7 August. ®

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