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Thursday, 12 September, 2002, 16:10 GMT 17:10 UK
Police can keep suspects' DNA
More than 750,000 DNA samples are already held on a database
Police can hold DNA from people found not guilty
The police can keep DNA samples and fingerprints from people charged with a crime but never convicted, the Court of Appeal has ruled.

One of the three judges agreed that keeping data taken from unconvicted people did breach their right to respect for private life under the European Convention on Human Rights.

But they all said it was a "relatively minor invasion" of privacy, and justified by the legitimate aim of preventing crime.


The larger the databank, the greater the value of the databank will be in preventing crime

Lord Chief Justice Woolf
The appeal had been brought on behalf of two people who were charged with a crime, but never convicted.

One was a 12-year-old boy arrested for attempted robbery but acquitted, and the other a man arrested on harassment charges which were dropped when his partner became reconciled with him.

The two had claimed the storing of their genetic fingerprints breached their right to respect for private life, as protected by the Convention.

'Valuable' databank

The court ruling came on the same day that the inventor of DNA fingerprinting, Professor Sir Alec Jeffreys, said he now believed it was wrong that genetic fingerprints of people cleared of a crime were stored by police.


Keeping samples from someone who has not been convicted of an offence is an unjustified interference with their privacy

Liberty
Sir Alec said the practice was highly discriminatory, and said a national database of everyone's DNA should be established so particular individuals or groups were not targeted.

Lord Chief Justice Lord Woolf, sitting with Lord Justice Waller and Lord Justice Sedley, said: "The larger the databank of fingerprints and DNA samples... the greater the value of the databank will be in preventing crime and detecting those responsible for crime."

He added that if everyone was required to provide the information it would make a "dramatic contribution" to the detection of crime, but Parliament had not allowed this blanket approach.

Fight 'will continue'

Lord Justice Sedley suggested that Chief Constables should consider whether or not to retain samples in each individual case, rather than operate blanket policies - but this was not a requirement.

Permission to take the case to the House of Lords was refused, but the lawyers who brought the case later said they would appeal directly to the House.

Peter Mahy, a solicitor with Sheffield-based Howells, said it was clear the judges recognised the unease "innocent people feel" about the practice of retaining samples, so there was "every reason" to continue the fight.

He said in a statement: "This is a fundamental human rights issue... and, if necessary, we will see it through to the European Court of Human Rights."

'Unfair'

Human rights campaign group Liberty said the judges' ruling was "disappointing", and the practice of retaining unconvicted suspects' DNA was "arbitrary and unfair".

It said DNA samples and fingerprints should only be kept for convicted offenders.

More than 1.7m DNA profiles are now held on the database, and the target is to have about three million profiles stored by April 2004.

Home Office figures show that every week around 1,600 DNA matches are made either connecting a suspect to a crime scene or linking crime scenes together.

See also:

12 Sep 02 | Leicester 2002
19 Jan 01 | UK
10 Oct 01 | England
29 Jan 01 | Politics
19 Jan 01 | Politics
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