Government DNA database plans do not conform with EU court ruling, says equality body

Out-Law News | 10 Aug 2009 | 5:18 pm | 2 min. read

The Government's DNA database plans do not meet the demands of a recent European court ruling and will cost it money and time in future legal challenges, Britain's equality body has said.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission has said that Government plans to keep the DNA profiles of innocent people who have been questioned by police for 12 years would breach a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights.

Two British men took a case to the Court over the retention of their DNA after they had been questioned by police but never charged.

The Court said last December that the "blanket and indiscriminate" retention of DNA information was not fair and was a "disproportionate interference with the applicants' right to respect for private life", as guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights.

The Government said it would change its practices and has just closed a consultation on a reform of how DNA is treated. It said it would keep the DNA of those who had been questioned but not convicted of crimes after six years, and after 12 years in the case of serious violent or sexual crimes.

The Commission now says that the Government's plans are not sufficient to bring it into line with the Court's ruling. It wants an independent adjudicator to oversee the database.

"The proposed changes to the national DNA database are a step in the right direction, but we think there is no reason why the police should be allowed to keep anyone’s DNA profile indefinitely," said the Commission's legal director John Wadham. "There also needs to be better protection for innocent people."

“It would be sensible for the Government to get this right now or it could face many more expensive legal challenges," he said. "Britain is at the cutting edge of how this technology is used in fighting crime, but it must be used lawfully.”

The Commission said that profiles should only be retained with very good reason. "DNA profiles must be destroyed once a final decision has been made in a case, with only a few exceptions," said a Commission statement. "A person’s DNA profile should only be kept for a limited period if they have been convicted of a serious crime and where destroying that information is likely to pose a risk to the public."

The Commission also said that there should be a better balance between the public's right to be protected from criminals and people's rights to privacy. It also said that it was not proportionate to keep a child's details for the same length of time as an adult's.

It said that there are a disproportionate number of vulnerable people on the database, including children as young as ten years old and people with mental illnesses.

The Commission said that there should be an independent adjudicator overseeing the DNA database. "This would give innocent people a way of challenging the need to keep their DNA profile on file," it said.