Wed, 22 Jun 2011

The London experience of DNA and the National DNA Database

The Civil Liberties Panel of the Metropolitan Police Authority (MPA) last year started a review of the use of DNA and the National DNA Database (NDNAD) by the Metropolitan Police Service. As part of its scrutiny effort, the MPA organised a public meeting on the National DNA Database and the use of DNA in policing (webcast, pdf transcript) I attended. The outcome of this review will be the publication next week of the report Protecting the innocent: The London experience of DNA and the National DNA Database. Preliminary information is already available on the MPA website (press release, report). Here are the recommendations as published in the final draft of the report (with some added links):

Recommendation 1:    [section 3.3 of the report]

People who have their DNA taken should be provided with the following information in writing, at the point when their DNA is taken:

  1. Why their DNA has been taken and what this means for them:
    • for those arrested for a recordable offence
    • for those examined under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000
    • for those who volunteer to provide a DNA sample
  2. The circumstances in which DNA is retained and for how long (both the sample and the profile)
  3. Where their DNA samples will be stored.
  4. How and in what circumstances an individual can apply to have DNA removed from the Database including clear guidelines on the framework for decision making.
  5. Who has access to their DNA record and the safeguards in place to protect this information.
  6. Who has knowledge that their DNA has been taken.
  7. Authoritative sources of further information (e.g. MPS / NPIA website). [GeneWatch UK should be included]

Recommendation 2:    [section 3.4 of the report]

The MPS should demonstrate through their community engagement work, how they will raise understanding of, and public confidence in, the use of DNA in policing.

Recommendation 3:    [section 3.6.3 of the report]

Where the police take an individual in need of immediate care or control to a police custody suite as a place of safety as set out under section 136 of the Mental Health Act 1983 (as opposed to the individual being arrested for a recordable offence), the MPS should ensure that their DNA will not be taken.

Recommendation 4:    [section 3.6.5 of the report]

The MPS should undertake a full Equality Impact Assessment (EIA) on the use of DNA within the MPS to address the impact of the use of DNA and the DNA Database on communities within London. This should seek to identify any disproportionality and include details of specific actions the MPS will take to address issues identified. It should be reviewed on a regular basis.

Recommendation 5:    [section 3.6 of the report]

In relation to the management of DNA within MPS custody suites, the MPS should:

  1. Agree a clear process outlining how and when DNA samples are to be taken, processed and retained within custody.
  2. Train all officers and staff responsible for taking a DNA sample to ensure the procedure is undertaken correctly.
  3. Develop an agreed chart detailing each step of the process which should be prominently displayed in every MPS custody suite (accessible to both MPS personnel and arrestees). This chart should be dated and subject to regular review.
  4. Ensure that this agreed procedure is strictly adhered to across all MPS custody suites.
  5. Ensure that any deficiencies identified through the HMIC/HMIP custody suite inspections in relation to the management of DNA are addressed.

Recommendation 6:    [section 3.6 of the report]

For all suspects arrested following a match on the DNA database between their DNA profile and an unsolved crime stain, it is MPS practice to take a confirmatory DNA sample from the suspect on their arrest. This is resource intensive and not standard practice across all forces. Therefore the MPS should provide a rationale for this including the costs for undertaking this practice.

Recommendation 7:    [section 4.4 of the report]

The MPS should put in place procedures to ensure the removal of personal and demographic details prior to sending DNA samples to the forensic service providers.

Recommendation 8:    [section 4.5 of the report]

In relation to volunteer samples taken for elimination purposes, the MPS should ensure forensic service providers are informed when the criminal justice process has been concluded to ensure the DNA sample and corresponding DNA profile are no longer required and can be destroyed.

Recommendation 9:    [section 6.4 of the report]

The MPS should specify how MPS budgets will be impacted by the provisions within the Protection of Freedoms Bill. This should detail immediate and ongoing cost obligations.

The MPA gives three months to the police to respond:

The Panel ask that the MPS begin the implementation of our recommendations immediately. We have made it clear that our recommendations are both necessary to increase public confidence and complementary to the provisions in the Protection of Freedoms Bill. The Panel therefore request that the MPS respond to our recommendations within three months of the publishing of this report with a timetable for implementation. These will then be reviewed by the Civil Liberties Panel.

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