The National DNA Database

Publication of Report

In a report released immediately this morning, Monday 8 March 2010, ahead of today's debate on the Crime and Security Bill, the Home Affairs Committee says that, while it does not question the indefinite retention of the DNA profiles of those convicted of crimes, the current system of indefinitely retaining the DNA profiles of people who are not actually convinced of any crime is impossible to defend. However, the Committee concluded it is difficult to determine an appropriate time limit as the evidence on which one could be based is incomplete and conflicting. There should be a centralised, co-ordinated system for handling applications from innocent people - those wrongly arrested - to have their DNA removed from the database and the Committee is pleased the government has indicated it will amend the Bill to charge the DNA Database Strategy Board with that role.

The Committee says decisions on retention periods must balance public safety against individual privacy and is 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.

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%. It is also not known how many crimes are solved with the help of the stored personal profiles of those were not convicted of a crime.

The Committee appreciates the argument that DNA from those never charged with an offence should be treated differently from those charged but not convicted. But it says this could create a "two-tier" that goes against the principle of law in England and Wales that people are either innocent or guilty, and does not tackle the nub of the problem: arrest should be a high threshold. The Committee says anomalies in the current system have arisen 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. The Committee calls for a return to 'commonsense policing' to counter these trends 'and says such a move should reduce number of arrests for flimsy reasons sharply.

Rt Hon Keith Vaz MP, Chair of the Committee, said: " DNA profiling and matching are vital tools in the fight against crime. However, Especially in the case of those of who are arrested and have their DNA taken but are then never charged, or never convicted of a crime, it is a very complex issue to balance the potential benefit of retaining their data against the threat to individual privacy. We don't have good information about how many later detections arise from this data. We do not think we should go back to the situation where DNA is only taken on charge, not arrest, but it is vital that it is made easier for those wrongly arrested or who have volunteered their DNA to get their records removed from the database. We expect the guidance to allow for the destruction of data in a far wider range of cases. We are pleased that the Government is showing willing to change the Bill to task the DNA Database Strategy Board with being the central co-ordinating body for handling applications for deletion of records - rather than these being the decision of 43 regional Chief Constables - to create a consistent, prompt and fair system."