Page last updated at 13:37 GMT, Thursday, 7 May 2009 14:37 UK

DNA data plan comes under fire

DNA profiles on a print-out
The current database has provided 400,000 crime scene matches

Campaigners have criticised plans to hold DNA profiles of almost a million innocent people on a database for up to 12 years.

Civil rights groups say it is an insult to a legal ruling that the UK database - apart from Scotland - breaks the law.

DNA profiles of up to 850,000 innocent people will, however, be removed from the database of 4.5m, following last year's European Court ruling.

Commons Leader Harriet Harman said the plan's critics were "against justice".

Details of those cleared of crimes - or never even charged - will be held for six years, except in cases of serious violent or sexual offences when they will be retained for 12.

Dr Helen Wallace from the charity Genewatch told the BBC: "If you are a suspect for a crime you should be able to have your DNA taken during that investigation.

Public protection

"But why does it need to be held on file? That shouldn't be the case unless you've been convicted."

Shami Chakrabarti, director of civil rights group Liberty, added: "This isn't necessarily a complete two fingers to the court of human rights but it comes pretty close.

"The logic of the government's position would be to take every man, woman and child in the country and put them on the database, just in case."

Anything that we do that takes away the possibilities of finding out who the guilty are is very detrimental
Jill Saward, crime victims campaigner

But crime victims campaigner Jill Saward argued the government was going too far in wiping DNA records.

"Anything that we do that takes away the possibilities of finding out who the guilty are is very detrimental," she said.

The government says the current database has provided 400,000 crime scene matches over a decade, including many which have helped solve crimes years after the original investigation.

One official estimate suggests the changes will result in 4,500 fewer offences detected on average each year - rising to 26,000 if the proposals are extended to the policies on retaining fingerprints, as planned.

The changes were prompted by a European Court of Human Rights ruling that the database in England, Wales and Northern Ireland was illegal.

It said rules allowing police to retain indefinitely the genetic profiles of everyone arrested for a recordable offence were indiscriminate.

DNA sample on arrest
If cleared, profile deleted
If cleared of serious sexual or violent offence, profile kept for maximum of five years
System praised by European Court of Human Rights

They did not differentiate between criminals and people who had never been convicted, or the severity of offences, it ruled.

Scottish law dictates that records can only be held beyond three years, up to a maximum of five, if police get court permission - a system deemed "fair and proportionate" by the European court.

In response, the Home Office proposes:

  • Destroying all original DNA samples, like mouth swabs, as soon as they are converted into a digital database profile
  • Automatically deleting after 12 years the profiles of those arrested but not convicted of a serious violent or sexual crime
  • Automatically deleting after six years the profiles of anyone arrested but not convicted of other offences
  • Retaining indefinitely the DNA profiles and fingerprints of anyone convicted of a recordable offence
  • Remove the profiles of young people arrested but not convicted, or convicted of less serious offences, when they turn 18

While the DNA profiles of all children under 10 have already been deleted, the database is to be expanded to include 30,000 serious offenders who were convicted before the database was established.

The Tories say they would adopt the Scottish system.

Shadow Commons leader Alan Duncan told Parliament the proposed changes to the DNA database were "another example of the government having little regard for civil liberty and justice".

"Keeping someone's DNA on record following arrest when no charges are then brought introduces an element of permanent suspicion where none is warranted," he said.

Liberal Democrat spokesman David Heath said the Home Office was effectively ignoring the European ruling and showing an "inability to understand what the word innocent means".

Commons Leader Harriet Harman hit back at the critics.

She cited the example of Abdul Azad, from Birmingham, who was convicted of a serious sexual assault after DNA evidence matched a profile from a swab taken from him when he had been previously arrested - but never charged - over an unrelated offence.

Rape was a repeat offence so, in bringing Azad to justice, other women were being protected, she argued.

"So you put yourself against justice when you argue against keeping DNA on the database."


Find out how police take a DNA profile from a suspect

Print Sponsor

DNA Database: Key case studies
07 May 09 |  UK
Scottish DNA system is 'fairer'
07 May 09 |  Scotland
Should the DNA database be trimmed?
07 May 09 |  Have Your Say
Q&A: The national DNA database
07 May 09 |  UK
Government defeat on DNA database
05 Nov 08 |  UK Politics
Police ordered to delete records
01 Nov 07 |  England


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific