Big Brother or crime fighting? DNA evidence under the microscope

DNA database impact on human rightsA proposal to retain DNA samples taken from people who have been arrested but not charged with a crime for up to five years has come under criticism from the Joint Committee on Human Rights.

The committee has been reviewing the Protection of Freedoms Bill for its compatibility with human rights (see our post: Protections of freedom bill under scrutiny and the Committee’s conclusions). The retention of DNA has long been a hot topic.

On the one hand, many people feel strongly that retention of something as personal as someone’s genetic code should never be done when the person has not been convicted of a crime. As DNA analysis gets more advanced, it can reveal increasingly large amounts of information about a person.

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DNA case analysis: The mystery of the missing purpose

We reported last week the Supreme Court ruling in R (on the application of GC) (FC) (Appellants) v The Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis (Respondent) in which the majority found that they could interpret the DNA retention provision in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE) in such a way that it would be compatible with article 8 of the ECHR.

Not only that; the Court concluded that such a reading could still promote the statutory purposes: ” Those purposes can be achieved by a proportionate scheme.”
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Courts entitled to ignore European Court decision on DNA and fingerprint retention

DNA database impact on human rightsUpdated, 1/9/10 | R (C) v Commissioner of the Police of the Metropolis [2010] WLR (D) 193 – Read judgment

When faced with conflicting authorities from the European Court of Human Rights and the House of Lords (now the Supreme Court) on the indefinite retention of DNA profiles and fingerprints by the police, the Divisional Court held that they were bound to follow the House of Lords.

This was so despite clear indications from the previous and current governments that the law would be changed to take account of the Strasbourg decision. However, as leave to appeal was granted, the Supreme Court will now have the opportunity to revisit the issue and determine the law in this controversial area.

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