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Last Updated: Wednesday, 5 September 2007, 12:06 GMT 13:06 UK
All UK 'must be on DNA database'
There are four million DNA samples on the database
The whole population and every UK visitor should be added to the national DNA database, a senior judge has said.

The present database in England and Wales holds details of 4m people who are guilty or cleared of a crime.

Lord Justice Sedley said this was indefensible and biased against ethnic minorities, and it would be fairer to include everyone, guilty or innocent.

Ministers said DNA helped tackle crime, but there were no plans for a voluntary national or compulsory UK database.

A spokesman for Prime Minister Gordon Brown said to expand the database would create "huge logistical and bureaucratic issues" and civil liberty concerns.

'Largest in the world'

Shadow home secretary David Davis called for a Parliamentary debate and described the system for adding people to the database as arbitrary and erratic.

Nick Clegg, Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, said there was "no earthly reason" why someone who has committed no crime should be on the database - "yet the government is shoving thousands of innocent people's DNA details on to the database every month".

The DNA database - which is 12 years old - grows by 30,000 samples a month taken from suspects or recovered from crime scenes.

There has already been criticism of the database - the largest in the world - because people who are found innocent usually cannot get their details removed.

It also means that a great many people who are walking the streets and whose DNA would show them guilty of crimes, go free
Sir Stephen Sedley

In one case, Dyfed-Powys Police stored the DNA of Jeffrey Orchard, 72, from Pembrokeshire, after he was wrongly arrested for criminal damage - and refused to remove it.

But Home Office Minister Tony McNulty said the database had helped police solve as many as 20,000 crimes a year.

Since 2004, the data of everyone arrested for a recordable offence in England and Wales - all but the most minor offences - has remained on the system regardless of their age, the seriousness of their alleged offence, and whether or not they were prosecuted.

It includes some 24,000 samples from young people between 10 and 17 years old, who were arrested but never convicted.

5.2% of UK population
Nearly 40% of black men
13% of Asian men
9% of white men
Source: Home Office and Census

In Scotland, DNA samples taken when people are arrested must be destroyed if the individual is not charged or convicted.

Lord Justice Sedley, who is one of England's most experienced appeal court judges, said: "We have a situation where if you happen to have been in the hands of the police then your DNA is on permanent record. If you haven't, it isn't.

"It means where there is ethnic profiling going on disproportionate numbers of ethnic minorities get onto the database.

"It also means that a great many people who are walking the streets and whose DNA would show them guilty of crimes, go free."

Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) is found in virtually all cells
Only a tiny sample of saliva, blood, semen, etc, is needed for testing
At the molecule's core is a long sequence of chemical units, which is checked for a gender and 10 other 'markers'
Probability of a chance match is less than one in one billion
A match may be with a specific individual or hint at a relative
Profiles can provide indications of ethnic origin
They do not point to genetic disorders or susceptibilities

He said the only option was to expand the database to cover the whole population and all those who visited the UK, even for a weekend.

"Going forwards has very serious but manageable implications," he insisted. It means that everybody, guilty or innocent, should expect their DNA to be on file for the absolutely rigorously restricted purpose of crime detection and prevention."

Figures compiled from Home Office statistics and census data show almost 40% of black men have their DNA profile on the database. That compares with 13% of Asian men and 9% of white men.

Keith Jarrett, president of the Black Police Association, said the current system was "untenable" and backed the call for a universal database.

"You can't have a system where so many black youths who have done nothing wrong are perhaps going to the police station for elimination from a crime and find that their DNA is on the database," he said.

But Professor Stephen Bain, a member of the national DNA database strategy board, warned expansion would be expensive and make mistakes more likely.

"The DNA genie can't be put back in the bottle," he said.

"If the information about you is exposed due to illegal or perhaps even legalised use of the database, in a way that is not currently anticipated, then it's a very difficult situation."

'Ripe for abuse'

Mr McNulty said there were no plans to introduce DNA profiling for everyone in the UK, but "no-one ever says never".

He said Lord Justice Sedley's idea "has logic to it - but I think he's underestimating the practical issues, logistics, civil and ethical issues that surround it."

Mr McNulty denied the current database was unfair but accepted there was room for debate on the workings of the present system, including time limits on the storing of information.

He said any imbalance in the number of black and white youths whose DNA was stored reflected disproportionality in the Criminal Justice System rather than an inherent problem with the database.

But he added that he was glad a debate had begun and a review of how DNA samples were kept and used would be published next February.

Tony Lake, chief constable of Lincolnshire Police and chairman of the DNA board, said the DNA of people convicted or arrested for violent or sex offences should remain on the database for life, but that need not be the case for minor offences.

Shami Chakrabarti, director of human rights organisation Liberty, said a database for every man, woman and child in the country was "a chilling proposal, ripe for indignity, error and abuse".

Home Office minister Tony McNulty gives his response

'Blanket DNA retention' ruled out
05 Sep 07 |  Scotland
Innocent man's DNA profile stored
20 Jun 07 |  South West Wales
Police DNA databases under debate
10 Apr 07 |  Scotland
Public consulted over DNA fears
01 Nov 06 |  UK Politics

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