In September 2007, the Nuffield Council on Bioethics published a report, The forensic use of bioinformation: ethical issues, which considers the ethical issues raised by the use of DNA and fingerprints in the criminal justice system.
Since this report was published, there have been a number of developments in this area of law. The information below applies to the time at which the report was published. For information about changes since 2007 please see:
The forensic use of bioinformation – 2010 update (PDF 31 KB)
Background to the 2007 report
In the UK, the police can take DNA and fingerprints without consent from anyone arrested for a ‘recordable’ offence (mostly offences that can lead to a prison sentence). In England, Wales and often in Northern Ireland, the samples are then stored permanently on forensic databases even if the person is later found to be innocent. As a result, the UK has the largest forensic DNA database in the world per head of population, holding around four million DNA profiles or six per cent of the population. The national fingerprint database contains over 6.5 million records.
In Scotland, DNA and fingerprint records are destroyed if the person is not charged or convicted, unless it is a very serious crime.