Six-year limit on DNA proposed

The Home Office has announced proposals whereby the DNA of innocent people arrested in England, Wales and Northern Ireland will not be kept for more than six years.

Some of you may recall that the European Court of Human Rights said the database in England and Wales was illegal because it allowed police to indefinitely retain the profiles of people who had been arrested - but never actually charged or found guilty of a crime.

However, it said the Scottish part of the database was legal.  The police in Scotland delete most of the profiles falling into this controversial category.  The Scottish system is seen as fairer.

The measures are intended to address the court's judgement.  The Home Office announced the proposals saying that they believe they have come up with a solution that balanced the public's concerns with the legitimate operational needs of the police. These proposals are not going to be accepted lightly.

The measures will need to go before Parliament where they will be scrutinised and challenged.  Some may say that this is where our parliamentary system comes into its own - it provides a check and a balance.  No doubt one argument  will be that the system should be the same as in Scotland.  Another point will be that there is little data about how many crimes have been solved using DNA from innocent people.  There are some that will argue that it goes too far and that it is not enough to beat the law and order drum and expect an informed public to accept generalisations these days.  Some individuals have already taken a stand and see it as a very real civil liberties issue. 

Most law students will know that a person is innocent until proven guilty.  Surely retained DNA profiles of innocent people should not in any way be seen as a 'not guilty - possibly' list.

Alan Johnson, Home Secretary, on the other hand seems intent on sticking to generalisations about DNA playing vital roles.  This may be the case where data is available to show how many suspects were identified through DNA profiling from DNA collected from crime scenes, or already held on the database.  However this may not be enough to answer the government's critics.  More than mere generalisations might be expected in any meaningful debate.

Alan Johnson has been reported as saying: "It is crucial that we do everything we can to protect the public by preventing crime and bringing offenders to justice.  The DNA database plays a vital role in helping us do that, providing thousands of crime scene matches every year, and helping to put many criminals behind bars where they belong.  I believe the proposals represent the most proportionate approach to DNA retention, as well as the most effective way of ensuring the database continues to help us tackle crime."

DNA database graphic


Some will see these proposals as confirmation of the government's stubborn determination to hang on to its desire to build a national DNA database by stealth. 

In addition it remains to be seen whether the blanket six year policy, with only limited exceptions, will be enough to satisfy the European Court of Human Right's concerns about whether such a policy infringes privacy laws.





Related Items

The items below list this Article as being related in some way.

Amazon's recommended Books

RSS Feeds


Recent Posts

The latest posts from the blog archives.

Caparo three part test – revisited

In Robinson the Supreme Court laid to rest the proposition that there is a Caparo test which applies to all claims in the modern law of negligence.

Statutory interpretation - penal legislation is construed strictly

The Supreme Court reminded everyone per Lord Reed and Lord Hughes that 'Penal legislation is construed strictly, particularly where the penalty involves deprivation of liberty'.

Court of appeal gives judgment acknowledging unmarried woman's rights

The claim related to bereavement payments under the Fatal Accidents Act 1976 as amended.

European union law – in the case of conflict between national law and european law

Walker (Appellant) v Innospec Limited and others (Respondents) [2017] UKSC 47 On appeal from [2015] EWCA Civ 1000

Vicarious liability is alive and well

This decision extends the doctrine of vicarious liability in respect of foster carers for the fist time and it represents another example of the potential for the expansion of this form of liability.

Supreme court busy - make sure you are geared up for your course

The Supreme Court has been especially busy lately.

Gina miller v secretary of state for exiting the eu 2016 as an example of the importance of judicial independence

Law students are now required to take note of how the independence and work of the judiciary has been reformed

Policing and crime bill and provisions for bail after arrest but before charge

The clear intention is that decisions on pre-charge bail should come under scrutiny.