Government announces innocents will continue to be held on DNA database

11 November 2009

Despite widespread opposition, the Home Office announced today plans to retain innocents DNA for six years. Innocent 16 and 17 years olds arrested for a serious crime will be treated the same as adults. All other children arrested but not convicted of any offence will have their profiles held for 3 years.

Shami Chakrabarti, Director of Liberty, said:

“It seems the Government still refuses to separate the innocent and the guilty and maintains a blanket approach to DNA retention. This grudgingly modified policy creates a repeat collision course with the Courts and Ministers look stubborn rather than effective or fair.

"Nobody disputes the value of DNA and anyone arrested can have a sample taken and compared to crime scenes. But stockpiling the intimate profiles of millions of innocent people is an unnecessary recipe for error and abuse. Politicians need to show us that they care about the presumption of innocence and not just when MPs expenses are being discussed.”

In December 2008, the European Court of Human Rights found Britain’s DNA retention regime – under which millions of innocent profiles are held – to be a disproportionate interference with personal privacy rights under Article 8 of the Human Rights Convention.

Contact: Mairi Clare Rodgers on 020 7378 3656 or 0797 383 1128

Notes to Editors

Liberty agrees that a carefully managed DNA database can be a valuable crime detection tool. However, repeated legislative changes have rolled out retention policy by stealth so that anyone arrested for even very minor offences can have their DNA held for the rest of their lives, even if they have been mistakenly arrested. DNA is relevant only to a small number of serious offences, mainly involving sexual assault or violence. Liberty believes that the correct and proportionate approach to the National DNA Database would be based on allowing retention of DNA for those convicted or cautioned for these types of serious offence. 2. DNA timeline

· 11 May 2001 the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE) is amended so that DNA taken after arrest no longer had to be destroyed on acquittal or where proceedings were discontinued.

· In April 2004 PACE is amended again to enable police to take DNA or fingerprints of anyone aged 10 or over who is arrested for a recordable offence.

· From 2005 under the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act (SOCPA) all offences become arrestable offences casting the net for DNA sampling ever wider.

· 4 December 2008 – European Court of Human Rights hands down judgment in the S and Marper v UK ruling that the UK’s policy of indefinite retention of DNA is in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights.

· 18 December 2008 - Government publishes Policing and Crime Bill to which clauses were added to allow for regulations to govern DNA and fingerprint retention. As the Bill makes its passage through parliament there is widespread cross-party opposition to the use of secondary legislation for an issue of such importance. Under the regulation power, parliamentarians would after only a 90 minute debate, have to accept or reject the regulations in their entirety with no opportunity for amendment

· July 2009 - Home Office launches consultation on future of DNA retention post S and Marper. Among other things the Government proposes that DNA of those arrested but not convicted is retained for periods of 6 and 12 years. The Government relies heavily on research from the Jill Dando Institute to justify these proposals. This research is subsequently widely contested in the scientific community

· August 2009 - Home Office consultation on DNA closes.

· 19 August 2009 – Damian Green MP announces that the police have agreed to delete his DNA record following his widely controversial arrest relating to Home Office leaks.

· 25 September 2009 – spokesperson from the Jill Dando Institute announces on the Today programme that the Government’s proposals for DNA retention periods had a flimsy research basis at best. On the same day, Diane Abbott launches the first Liberty DNA clinic in an attempt to advise innocent young people in Hackney on how to have their DNA removed from the database – future clinics are expected around the country.

· Ahead of Committee Stage of the Policing and Crime Bill in the House of Lords the Liberal Democrat and Conservative Front Benches and other peers tabled an amendment to delete the same regulation-making clauses from the Bill. The tabled amendments were due to be debated on 20 October 2009.

· 19 October 2009 – the Home Office announces that the clauses in the Policing and Crime Bill which would allow for regulations on DNA retention are to be dropped from the Bill.