Govt U-turns on DNA database plans

By Ian Dunt

The government backed down on previous announcements concerning the DNA database today, by promising not to hold innocent people’s DNA for longer than six years.

The announcement constitutes a U-turn on previous declarations, which planned for a maximum 12 year retention period.

The retention of juveniles’ DNA is also set to undergo a thorough shake-up.

Sixteen and 17 year old juveniles arrested but not charged or convicted of serious offences will have their profiles removed after six years.

Those arrested but not charged or convicted of a recordable offence will have their profile scrapped after three years, regardless of their age at the time of arrest.

Anyone convicted of an offence will have their DNA retained indefinitely.

“It is vital that we maintain the capacity of the DNA database to provide as many detections as possible by making sure the right people are on it,” home secretary Alan Johnson said.

“But we must balance this with the consideration of when other people should come off.”

“I believe the proposals I am announcing today represent the most proportionate approach to DNA retention.”

The announcement did little to appease those who object to the database, however.

“This is still the most authoritarian approach anywhere,” said Phil Booth, NO2ID’s national coordinator.

“The government assumes everyone accused of anything must be guilty of something, even if the crime never happened at all.

“That police will already delete a record in exceptional cases, shows that this is really just foot-dragging. Damian Green MP had done nothing wrong; he was able to get his sample removed in a few months.”

The government response became necessary after the European court of human rights (ECHR) found current British practise – where the DNA of those taken to a police station is kept indefinitely regardless of whether they are later convicted – to be illegal.

The government’s initial response to the ruling was fiercely criticised by civil liberties groups. It also raised eyebrows when it was revealed the Jill Dando Institute of Crime Science, which provided the research, said its study was incomplete.

There is every chance that even the government’s new plans would contravene the ECHR ruling, which only allows for DNA to be retained if there are “clear, justifiable reasons” for doing so.

Shadow home secretary Chris Graylin spoke out against the decision this morning.

But Lib Dem sources pointed to poor Tory attendance during a vote on the subject last week, which could have helped scupper the plans. Last Thursday, the Tories tabled an amendment to the policing and crime bill in the Lords which would have introduced three year retention – similar to the system in Scotland.

The Lib Dems supported the amendment, but the government won by 12 votes after only 15 Tory peers turned up to vote.

“This government needs to learn the difference between innocence and guilt,” Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Chris Huhne said today.

“These proposals are little better than the previous unacceptable plans for hoarding innocent people’s DNA which were thrown out by parliament.”

The Home Office already deleted DNA profile of those under ten-years-old in response to the ECHR ruling.