Wed, 18 May 2011

Retaining DNA of innocents ruled unlawful, again

The Supreme Court ruled (press release & judgement pdfs), by a majority, that the guidelines issued by the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), which provide that Police National Computer (PNC), fingerprints and DNA records should be destroyed only in exceptional cases, are unlawful because they are incompatible with the right to respect for private and family life. However, as Parliament is currently reviewing the Protection of Freedoms Bill, the Supreme Court decided 'it is not appropriate to make an order requiring a change in the legislative scheme within a specific period or an order requiring destruction of data'.

In DNA retention judgment won't see discriminatory policy destroyed, Anna Fairclough, legal officer at Liberty, sums up the impact of this ruling for all the innocents whose DNA and associated records are retained by the police: 'So, although the declaration of illegality is welcome, the judgment will make little practical difference for the hundreds of thousands of people whose DNA is – admittedly – unlawfully retained, who will have to wait even longer to compel the police to destroy it.'

While Parliament scrutinises the bill, the court remarked that 'It is, however, open to ACPO to reconsider and amend the guidelines in the interim'. In its latest communication (pdf) to the Committee of Ministers monitoring the implementation of the S. & Marper ruling, the government explained that although 'it would be inappropriate for the police to start removing the profiles of unconvicted people from the National DNA Database at this stage [...] Nonetheless, given the broad political consensus within the UK Parliament around the Government’s proposal to destroy all biological DNA samples within six months of being taken, the Government has asked the police to explore the possibility of making a start to the destruction of samples before the passing into law of the Protection of Freedoms Bill.' [emphasis added] The government has suggested this interim destruction of DNA samples for close to a year, so even that is unlikely to happen until the bill is finalised.

The Protection of Freedoms Bill includes clauses about the deletion of fingerprints, and DNA samples and profiles, however amendments are still required to ensure that PNC records and photographs of innocent people will be deleted as well.

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