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Supreme Court: DNA database retention regs are unlawful

Judges lob ball into Parliament's court

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The Supreme Court has ruled that guidance on the running of the national DNA database – which states that all collected DNA signatures should be retained other than in "exceptional" circumstances – is unlawful. However the court, noting that Parliament is considering the matter, has declined to specify any remedy for the situation.

The ruling (53-page PDF/182KB) follows appeals brought by two men, referred to as GC and C, against judgments which had seen their signatures kept on file indefinitely, even though GC had been released without charge following his sampling and C – facing allegations of rape – had been acquitted.

Police routinely collect DNA data on people they arrest, and in the vast majority of cases this data is kept on file indefinitely even if no charges or convictions ensue. The European Court of Human Rights ruled against this practice in 2008, but current guidance from the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) states that chief constables have discretion to keep DNA data on file – even in the case of innocent persons requesting to have it deleted – unless "exceptional circumstances" exist.

It is this ACPO guidance which the Supreme Court has now deemed unlawful in a majority ruling, with seven judges agreeing and two saying that GC and C's appeals should have been dismissed. However the judges have not ordered deletion of GC and C's data, nor ordered ACPO to change the offending document.

"Where Parliament is seized of the matter, it is not appropriate to make an order requiring a change in the legislative scheme within a specific period or an order requiring the destruction of data," says the judgment.

The government has planned legislation to deal with the previous European court decision. Under the proposed new laws, the DNA data of those arrested for minor offences but not convicted would not be kept. People arrested for more serious crimes, even if not convicted, would see their data kept on file for three to five years. Convicted criminals' DNA would be retained indefinitely. ®

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