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New DNA rules may still breach human rights

Council of Europe unsatisfied

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The government's plans to limit DNA retention from those arrested but not charged or convicted may not go far enough, according to the body that ensures human rights rulings are obeyed.

Last month the Home Office said that - in response to a defeat at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) - it would cut the retention period to six years for all arrestable offences. DNA fingerprints are currently held indefinitely, except in special circumstances at the discretion of chief constables.

The planned regime for England and Wales contrasts with more limited powers in Scotland. There, DNA fingerprints are held for five years after an arrest where there is no charge or conviction, but only when the investigation concerns a violent or sexual offence.

The Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe* yesterday welcomed the planned changes in England and Wales, but said it was yet to be satisfied they would comply with the European Convention on Human Rights.

"A number of important questions remain as to how the revised proposals take into account certain factors held by the European Court [of Human Rights] to be of relevance for assessing the proportionality of the interference with private life here at issue," the Committee said.

The comments can be interpreted as a reference to the EHCR's concerns that "the data in question could be retained irrespective of the nature or gravity of the offence with which the individual was originally suspected".

The new regime, to be implemented by the forthcoming Crime and Security Bill, takes no account of the seriousness of the offence a person is arrested for in deciding whether to retain their DNA fingerprint for six years.

The Committee said will again examine whether the National DNA Database complies with human rights laws at its next meeting in March, "in light of further clarifications". ®

*Not a European Union body. The Council of Europe is a much larger body, comprising 47 member states. It mostly works on human rights and legal standards.

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