The National DNA Database - Home Affairs Committee Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

1.  It is currently impossible to say with certainty how many crimes are detected, let alone how many result in convictions, due at least in part to the matching of crime scene DNA to a personal profile already on the database, but it appears that it may be as little as 0.3%—and we note that the reason for retaining personal profiles on a database is so that the person can be linked to crimes he/she commits later. (Paragraph 6)

2.  We wish to make it clear at the outset that we are strongly of the belief that DNA profiling and matching are vital tools in the fight against crime; and that it is essential, wherever possible, to gather, profile and store information relating to DNA discovered at crime scenes. Although it is very unlikely that DNA on its own could bring about a conviction for a crime—and, indeed, we understand that the Crown Prosecution Service requires further corroborative evidence before it will bring a prosecution—DNA evidence places a person at the scene of the crime and he/she then has to explain why they were there or prove that the DNA match is faulty. (Paragraph 11)

3.  Nor do we question the taking of DNA samples from everyone arrested for a recordable offence. We note that the identification of perpetrators of some very serious crimes, including murder, has been made possible by the matching of a personal sample taken in connection with a later, less serious offence with a crime scene sample. We also support the principle, as set down in the Crime and Security Bill, of destroying the actual personal samples as soon as practicable, not least as they could theoretically be used to derive other personal information about the individual such as family relationships or information about health. In this Report we are solely concerned with the retention of personal profiles on the database: whose profiles should be retained, for how long they should be stored, and the processes for getting one's profile deleted from the database. (Paragraph 12)

4.  It is not known how many crimes are solved with the help of the stored personal profiles of those not previously convicted of a crime. The highly complicated calculations made by GeneWatch to try to answer this question on the basis of information from various sources already in the public domain, and the provisional nature of its conclusions, underline the need for the Home Office to undertake research specifically on this issue. (Paragraph 15)

5.  It could therefore be argued that the DNA from those never charged with an offence should be treated differently from those charged but not convicted. However, this runs counter to the principle in England and Wales that in law people are either innocent or guilty by introducing gradations of innocence. It also does not tackle the nub of the problem: arrest should be a high threshold. At least in part, the anomalies have arisen in the current system because of the way in which offences are treated—for example, far more incidents are now classified as crimes of violence even if no physical assault has taken place—and target-driven policing has encouraged police officers to treat minor incidents formally in order to reach targets. We hope that both these trends will be mitigated by the move back to 'commonsense policing'; if so, the number of arrests for flimsy reasons should decline sharply. We therefore do not recommend the return to the pre-2004 situation of DNA being collected only on charging not on arrest. (Paragraph 28)

6.  However, the counter-balance to this is that it should be easier for those wrongly arrested or who have volunteered their DNA to get their records removed from the database. We recommend some changes to make this possible later in this report. (Paragraph 29)

7.  It is arguable on the basis of natural justice and the ECHR's judgment that those suspected of committing the most serious crimes should be treated differently from those suspected of more minor crimes. Ms Abbott, Liberty and GeneWatch clearly thought so. We support the distinctions made among juveniles, not least because numerous studies have shown that many 'get into trouble with the law' for something comparatively minor and never offend again. This leaves the question whether the same distinction should be made among adults. The police argued that enough people progressed from committing 'minor' crimes to serious crime that the effectiveness of the database would be seriously undermined if those suspected of minor crimes had their DNA profiles deleted earlier than others. We accept this, and therefore do not recommend that the Bill's provisions relating to adults make a distinction between those arrested for major and minor crimes. (Paragraph 31)

8.  The Home Secretary is right to caution against a simple identification of a second arrest, with no indication of outcome, as being proof of guilt. If faced with a crime such as burglary, where it is known that a high proportion of offences is committed by a limited number of repeat offenders, it is right for the police to look first at suspects previously arrested for a similar crime, rather than to the general population. Arrest to arrest data reveal the likelihood of being arrested again, but do not equate to the risk of offending after an initial arrest. (Paragraph 34)

9.  Decisions on retention periods must balance public safety against individual privacy. We are not convinced that retaining for six years the DNA profiles of people not convicted of any crime would result in more cases being cleared up—let alone more convictions obtained—than retaining them for three years. We therefore recommend a three year limit, and a draft amendment to the Crime and Security Bill to this effect is in the Annex to this Report. (Paragraph 37)

10.  We understand that the Government would be willing to table amendments at Report Stage of the Bill to give the National DNA Database Strategy Board the central co-ordinating role, as the organisation to which applications for deletion of records would be made, handling the case, making a recommendation to the relevant chief constable based on the statutory guidance that it (the Board) would issue, and informing the applicant of the result. We support these proposals. (Paragraph 40)

11.  We consider that the then Home Affairs Committee should be consulted by the Board on the draft guidance. The Home Secretary cited an example of where DNA data should not be retained— that of someone arrested for shoplifting when trying to exchange goods for which she was carrying the receipt. This example is absolutely cut and dried; we expect the guidance to allow for the destruction of data in a far wider range of cases. (Paragraph 41)

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