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Government will keep DNA for up to 12 years despite European court ruling

The Government plans to keep DNA profiles of people not convicted of any crime for up to 12 years in a move critics claim does not fully implement a decision of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).

The case was brought by Michael Marper, 45, and a 19-year-old man identified only as S, both of whom live in Sheffield.

In 2001, Marper was arrested and charged with harassing his partner. His fingerprints and DNA samples were also taken. The charges were dropped following reconciliation with his partner and, within three months, the case against him was discontinued.

The same year, S was arrested and charged with attempted robbery. His fingerprints and DNA samples were taken. He was aged 11 at the time. S was acquitted five months later.

Marper and S requested that their fingerprints, DNA samples and profiles be destroyed. The police refused their requests and they went to court citing a breach of the Human Rights Act.

The Government had a policy in England and Wales of keeping the DNA of anyone questioned over a crime. The UK's DNA database contains 4.5 million people's records, over 850,000 of which are for people who have not been convicted of any crime.

The High Court, the Court of Appeal and the House of Lords found no breach of the Human Right Act but the case was taken to the ECHR.

The ECHR ruled 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 has just published its planned changes to the way the England and Wales databases will work, and opposition politicians and privacy campaigners have said that the plans do not fully implement the ECHR's ruling.

The Government is conducting a public consultation on its plans, which are to "automatically delete profiles of those arrested but not convicted of serious violent or sexual crimes after 12 years [and] automatically delete profiles of those arrested but not convicted of all other crimes after six years".

"These proposals are not quite two fingers to the European Court of Human Rights but they come pretty close," said Shami Chakrabarti, director of human rights group Liberty, according to news agency the Press Association. "They don't distinguish between people who are under suspicion, people who are wholly innocent and those who are guilty."

Campaigners from pressure groups GeneWatch UK, Liberty, Privacy International and Action on Rights for Children wrote to Europe's Committee of Ministers last week expressing concerns about the Government's approach to the ruling.

They said that the Government's proposal "sets no minimum standard for automatic removal of DNA profiles and fingerprints and destruction of samples, nor does it include a presumption in favour of removal of data from unconvicted persons".

"It does not establish (or enable regulations to provide for) a process for appeal against the Home Secretary’s decisions [and] it allows the Home Secretary to make 'different provision for different cases' and 'provision subject to such exceptions as the Secretary of State thinks fit', in a manner that appears arbitrary, unfair and open to abuse," they said.

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith defended the Government's response to the ruling. "It is crucial that we do everything we can to protect the public by preventing crime and bringing offenders to justice," she said. "These new proposals will ensure that the right people are on it, as well as considering where people should come off."

Scotland has a different system, by which DNA data is deleted unless a person is convicted. The profiles of those suspected but not convicted of certain sexual or violent offences are kept for three years, though.

Shadow Home Secretary Chris Grayling said that the Government plan "doesn't go far enough". "I can see no reason to be storing the DNA of people who have not been convicted of any offence," he said.

Grayling said that any Conservative government would implement the Scottish system across the UK. The ECHR had given the Scottish system its approval.

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