The Government’s Protection of Freedoms Bill proposes a number of changes to the way people’s DNA is stored on the National DNA Database, in line with recommendations made by the Council in 2007.
Under changes announced today, DNA profiles and fingerprints taken from people who have been arrested but never charged or convicted of a crime will be destroyed. Previously, police had powers to keep these records indefinitely.
This legislation gives full support to the recommendations made in the Council’s report ‘The forensic use of bioinformation: ethical issues‘ that the law in England, Wales and Northern Ireland should be brought into line with Scotland, where other than in exceptional cases, DNA profiles and biological samples from a person are kept permanently on record only if they have been convicted of a recordable offence.
The Protection of Freedoms Bill proposes:
- Fingerprints and DNA profiles taken from persons arrested for or charged with a minor offence will be destroyed ‘as soon as reasonably practical’ following either a decision not to charge or following acquittal.
- The fingerprints and DNA of people arrested can be retained for a short period until a speculative search of the relevant databases has been carried out.
- In the case of persons charged for, but not convicted of, a serious offence, fingerprints and DNA profiles may be retained for three years, with a possible two-year extension if approved in court.
- Fingerprints and DNA profiles will be retained indefinitely for people convicted of an offence or given a fixed penalty notice and for extended retention on national security grounds.
- For people convicted of an offence committed when they under 18, DNA can be retained indefinitely only if the custodial sentence is five years or more.
- DNA given by people voluntarily, for example to eliminate them from an investigation, will be destroyed as soon as it has fulfilled the purpose for which it was taken.
- DNA samples, for example saliva or blood specimens, must be destroyed as soon as a DNA profile has been satisfactorily derived from the sample and, in any event, within six months of the taking of the sample.
The Bill also puts the DNA Database and the National DNA Database Strategy Board on a statutory footing for the first time.
Following a 12-month inquiry, the Council found a lack of convincing evidence that retention of DNA of people not charged with or convicted of an offence had had a significant impact on crime detection rates. Given the considerable public concern about possible future uses to which the DNA might be put, the Council concluded that such retention was a disproportionate measure.
Today’s long awaited announcement comes after a landmark ruling at the European Court of Human Rights in 2008. The Court found the permanent storage of DNA profiles of people arrested but never charged with an offence to be a breach of human rights, citing the Council’s report in its judgment.
The Bill will now undergo Parliamentary scrutiny and the Government hopes it will gain Royal Assent by late 2011 or early 2012.