Fri, 09 Oct 2009

More than 500 responses to the DNA database consultation

A large number of respondents, both organisations and individuals, to the Home Office consultation on the future of the National DNA Database (NDNAD) demonstrate once more that the public is very concerned by the government's plans and is keen to engage in a serious debate. With 503 respondents, it reaches fourth place in a league table of recent consultations. Ending violence against women is an issue which deservedly receives wide support by large organisations such as Amnesty International UK, which explains having received an order of magnitude more responses than any of the included consultations.

Consultation Organisations Individuals Total Closing date
End violence against women (1) (1) 8,700 29 May 2009
Consultation on protecting animals used in scientific research 87 approx. 1068 1,155 3 Jul 2009
Licensing of wheel clamping (vehicle immobilisation) companies 38 523 562 23 Jul 2009
Keeping the right people on the DNA database 90 413 503 7 Aug 2009
Protecting the public in a changing communications environment 55 167 222 20 Jul 2009
Review of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 153 68 221 10 Jul 2009
PACE review: proposals in response to the review of the police and criminal evidence act 1984 187 18 205 28 Nov 2008
Controls on deactivated firearms 73 103 176 25 May 2009
Identity cards act secondary legislation consultation (2) 42 127 169 13 Feb 2009
Protecting crowded places 101 4 105 10 Jul 2009
Forensic Science Regulator 74 16 90 9 Apr 2009
Proposal to increase fixed penalties for two types of driving offences 11 15 26 8 Dec 2008

(1) 'we were unable to provide the information broken down between organisations and individuals in regard to the consultation “End violence against women”. This is because the department has received a large number of responses on this consultation and are still sifting through them to establish the types of responses received. A detailed list of those responses will be available in the consultation paper that will be published as standard at a later date.'

(2) 'We have also provided you with the response figures in relation to the consultation on ”Identity cards act secondary legislation consultation” even though under Section 21 of the Freedom of Information act we are not obliged to do so as it is already in the public domain. We have included this information below in the interests of being helpful and you can find more detailed information on this consultation and the responses received, on page 24 of this link' (pdf)

Such a large number of responses unfortunately risks to overwhelm the Home Office as it already finds it difficult to deal with consultations with less than half the response rate, such as the PACE review one.

On the page the Home Office maintains for the PACE review consultation, on 2009-07-10, an information box was added that read 'The government’s proposals in response to the Review of PACE (new window) were subject to a 3 month public consultation at the end of 2008. The summary of responses and the table of respondents summarised comments will be published here before the end of August 2009.' On the 2009-09-01, I asked Alan Brown, Home Office Policing Powers and Protection Unit, who is in charge of this consultation as well as the NDNAD one if there was any additional delay. His response: 'apologies that the document was not published as planned. The draft document is currently being considered by the PACE Review Board and we will look to publish as soon as possible.' The information box has been silently updated to 'The summary of responses and the table of respondents summarised comments will be published here before the end of autumn.'

It is unclear why the Home Office appears so reluctant to provide more data concerning its consultation 'Keeping the right people on the DNA database'.

The data published in the table above was requested on 2009-08-09. For two months, the Home Office has been considering whether to refuse disclosing the data under the exemption contained within sections 22(1)(a) and 22(1)(b) of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (Information intended for future publication). (pdf)

I also requested the Home Office correspondence with Professor Ken Pease and the Jill Dando Institute in relation to the consultation. This was exempted from disclosure using section 35 (formulation or development of government policy) of the Freedom of Information Act 2000. 'The information we are withholding under section 35 covers advice and policy discussions between officials, as well as communications between Ministers, on policy relating to the European Convention on Human Rights and its impact on police practices, and the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 which provides the basis for the taking and retention of DNA and fingerprints.' (pdf)

Yet another related request was for the statistical information used to provide an informed background to creating the consultation and its annex. A response was delayed until the closure of the consultation... and then the information was exempted from disclosure using section 35(1)(a) of the Freedom of Information Act. 'This provides that information can be withheld where its disclosure would prejudice the formulation or development of government policy. Section 35 is a qualified exemption and as such requires the conducting of a Public Interest Test (PIT) to balance the considerations favouring disclosure against those favouring non-disclosure.' (pdf)

It is disappointing to find that Freedom of Information requests to the Home Office that are related to the DNA consultation end up being delayed and often exempted when there's clearly a demand for more information of better quality.

(On a related note, there has been some progress with two other of my freedom of information requests. Some of the notes from meetings of the NDNAD Ethics Group and some of the minutes of the National DNA Database Strategy Board that were missing have been added to the respective Home Office and National Police Improvement Agency websites. Minutes that are still missing should be added before my requests are closed.)

websiteblogblog archivenews feedfeedback