Finally, three years after the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) came to the conclusion that holding the DNA of innocent people is unlawful, the Supreme Court have reached a similar verdict. The ruling, made today, declares that the existing policy of keeping DNA profiles of people in England and Wales who have been arrested but never convicted of a crime is excessive and violates privacy rights.
Since the ruling by the ECHR (in the case known as S & Marper v. United Kingdom) in February 2008 more than 200,000 additional innocent people have been added to the DNA register, bringing the total to over 1.1 million. The guidelines of the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) state that chief constables can order the deletion of DNA profiles and fingerprints only when there are “exceptional circumstances.” One infamous example is the immigration minister Damian Green who was arrested in 2008 on suspicion of misconduct. He subsequently asked for his DNA to be deleted, which the Met agreed to do.
Lord Dyson said in the Supreme Court ruling:
"It is appropriate to grant a declaration that the present ACPO guidelines ... are unlawful because, as clearly demonstrated by Marper, they are incompatible with the ECHR.”
"It is important that, in such an important and sensitive area as the retention of biometric data by the police, the court reflects its decision by making a formal order to declare what it considers to be the true legal position. But it is not necessary to go further."
However, unfortunately the judges have still failed to make any immediate changes to the situation, or set out a timeline for the eventual deletion of the date. The government have previously signalled their intentions to bring the legislation into force later this year as part of the protection of freedoms bill as proposed by the home secretary Theresa May.
It is scandalous that even after three years these 1.1 million innocent people still have their DNA on the national database. The government must ensure the protection of freedoms bill currently going through parliament does not get watered down or challenged, these people must be given back the security of their biometric data.
The choices are simple, either all convicted criminals have their DNA on the database, or every British citizen has their DNA on the database. It is grossly unfair for this many innocent people who have never been convicted of any crime to suffer the same indignity of criminals for no legitimate reason.