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DNA Databases

dnaThe UK government is today to announce its planned curtailment of its DNA Database in response to the European Court of Human decision in S and Marper v. UK (2008) In that case the Court found that through the retention of DNA profiles of all individuals suspected (not charged or convicted) of criminal offences the UK was breaching Article 8. The Court found the ‘blanket and indiscriminate nature’ of retention in the UK to be most problematic and indicated that the Scottish system of retaining for three years (with potential for extension by judicial authorisation) profiles of individuals suspected of serious sexual or violent offences was a justifiable interference with Article 8. The lack of independent review for retention was also questionable. This was particularly ‘harmful’ where minors were considered, given the potential labelling effects of being placed on the database.
BBC News reports that the proposals from the UK government to be announced today will permit retention of profile’s suspects for up to 6 years, with no suggestion of limitation to serious offences. Different rules will apply for individuals under the age of 18. It is difficult to see how this complies with the European Court’s judgement and the Equality and Human Rights Commission has stated as much.
This is of particular concern in Ireland where the General Scheme of the Criminal Justice (Forensic Sampling and Evidence) Bill 2007 provides powers in Ireland for retention of samples of suspects arrested under, as outlined in Head 8:
a. section 30 of the OAS Act 1939,
b. section 4 of the CJ Act 1984
c. section 2 of the CJ (Drug Trafficking) Act 1996.
d. section 42 of CJ Act 1999
While this may seem to provide some limitations, the breadth of application of s.4 of the CJAct 1984 (arrest without charge for any offence meriting 5 years imprisonment) still looks to run foul of the Marper decision for not providing sufficient justification. Further, the lack of time limits on retention, the minimal safeguard of consent of a guardian for young people aged 12-18 and the failure to provide independent review are highly problematic. The full draft Bill is expected imminently and while it might be hoped that the Marper decision will be accounted for within that, this is unlikely. What is more likely is that both the UK and Irish governments, aware of the approval for the limited retention in Scotland, will attempt to push that approval to its limits in the hoping of retaining samples from as many individuals as possible. Given that the UK statistics indicate that DNA evidence assists in the investigation of crime in just 0.68% of cases, this intrusion on Article 8 is not justifiable.

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Categories: Criminal Justice, Policing
  1. Kevin J. Brown
    November 11, 2009 at 10:10 am

    I was rather irritated to hear a spokesperson for ‘Justice for Women’ on Radio 4 this morning arguing against the reforms. She even went so far as to advocate that everyone be placed on the register in case they ever attacked a woman. Of course when she said everyone she meant all men. Feminists have a lot to answer for when it comes to their influence on the Criminal Justice System. Defendants’ rights have been continually undermined over the last 30 years in the cause of protecting women. Many of these groups have been at the forefront of arguments in favour of ‘rebalancing the system’. A point it seems that many leading female academics in the field of criminal justice choose to ignore.

  2. vconway
    November 11, 2009 at 10:33 am

    I agree its an easy argument to push in relation to certain offences – Marper hit the key stereotypes of violence against women and anti-social behaviour/youth offending. And yes, there’s a strong link between feminism and the victim’s movement but it’s not just about female academics. There are plenty of conservative males out there of a similar view point. Even worse are those such as the government who push this despite knowning it makes very little difference in the investigation of crime. The 0.68% reference is to all DNA samples, not just suspect ones – their influence is minimal. It’s a big brother drive, dressed up as ‘rebalancing the system’.

  3. Kevin J. Brown
    November 11, 2009 at 10:44 am

    ‘And yes, there’s a strong link between feminism and the victim’s movement but it’s not just about female academics. There are plenty of conservative males out there of a similar view point.’

    However, male conservative critics are constantly challenged on their views and their work subjected to sustained critiques (as it should be). If you look at substantive, procedural and evidential law in the UK, leading feminist groups in the field have constantly pushed for defendants’ rights to be undermined, yet their arguments remain largely uncritiqued. This allows the government to rely on these arguments ‘lazily’ as you say.

  1. April 13, 2010 at 4:16 pm

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