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UK Supreme Court to hear DNA cases

9 February, 2011

This article is also available in:
Deutsch: Oberster Britischer Gerichtshof prüft DNS-Fälle

Following a decision of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), the UK Coalition Government has recently stated its intention to dramatically reduce the retention period of DNA data. In 2008, the ECtHR ruled that a blanket policy of retaining DNA samples of people who were not charged or convicted of offences indefinitely was breaching human rights.

The UK Supreme Court has recently held hearings in two cases related to the retention of DNA, fingerprints and other information by the Police of Metropolis of two individuals, independently arrested by the police for suspected offences but had no further action taken against them.

"It makes good sense to hold the DNA of dangerous convicts, but holding intimate information on thousands of innocents is discriminatory as well as intrusive. The high numbers of black men arrested and never charged explains but doesn't justify their over-representation on the database. In the absence of long-trailed new law from Parliament, Britain's highest court must inject fairness into DNA retention practice," stated Liberty's legal officer Anna Fairclough.

The Supreme Court will decide whether the respective data retention violates the rights of the plaintiffs under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The decision will probably largely influence the actions taken further on by the UK authorities.

The Coalition expressed the intention to introduce a similar policy to that in Scotland where only the samples of people suspected of serious offences are retained and only for a limited period of time. "The Government is committed to adopting the protections of the Scottish model for DNA retention. In particular, we are examining whether the provisions of section 23 of the Crime and Security Act 2010 should be brought into force. This would empower the National DNA Database Strategy Board to issue binding guidance to chief police officers on the types of case in which deletion would be appropriate," Home Office Minister James Brokenshire announced in the Parliament.

For the time being, according to the statistics, one out of four people whose DNA data are retained by the UK police forces are innocent and the data are retained indefinitely.

In January 2011, Northern Ireland's High Court of Justice ruled that the retention of a 14-year-old boy's DNA by the police was not illegal, stating ECHR's 2008 ruling could not be followed because it was not binding and it was in conflict with the earlier ruling by the House of Lords.

"The lengthy, perhaps indefinite, retention by the police of the Applicant's photographic images seems incompatible with the broad and elastic formulations of the scope of Article 8(1) (of the ECtHR)," said Mr Justice McLoskey who added: "But for (the House of Lords) decision and our analysis of it, we consider that there is substantial force in the view that the retention of the Applicant's photographic images by the Police Service for a minimum period of seven years, which may be extended indefinitely, unconnected in any concrete or rational way with any of the statutory purposes, interferes with his right to respect for private life guaranteed by Article 8(1)."

Innocent DNA retention to be challenged (31.01.2011)

Supreme Court to revisit DNA retention (30.01.2011)

Police DNA retention ruled lawful by NI High Court (21.01.2011)

EDRi-gram: ECHR decided against the UK DNA Database (17.12.2008)



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