DNA Retention

Innocent People and DNA…

This issue is very fluid at the moment and new legislation regarding it is currently being debated (which will no doubt continue in the future!)

Rumours (on the internet) have it that there was new legislation brought in in 2010 allowing the police to take DNA from people who were convicted of serious offences carried out before 1995. However, the author of the following information can’t find the actual section of law anywhere as there were about 4000 new acts brought in during 2010.

The following newspaper articles are from 26th July 2011 and relate to the Government’s decision to retain the DNA samples of innocent people:

Guardian (July 2011)


Article on removing DNA from databases (400 people were successful):

Daily Mail

The campaign against the DNA database:


Under the Criminal Justice Act 2003 the police have the legal right to take DNA, finger prints and photos of a person by reasonable force after they have been arrested for a “recordable offence” – if you’re arrested for something like “Breach of the Peace” you do not have to give your details or allow the police to take your photo, DNA or fingerprints.

In 2008 the European Court of Human Rights ruled against the English/Welsh system of keeping all DNA samples taken (even if the person they were taken from was innocent), on the grounds that it broke the persons right to privacy and family life (Wikipedia article). The government now has the legal responsibility to change this practice, however it is still normal practice for the police to take the DNA of everyone who gets arrested (for a recordable offence) and store it indefinitely (it is possible to contact the Chief Constable of the Force concerned and ask for your DNA to be destroyed if you are proved to be innocent. This seems to be rarely done and police guidelines suggest Chief Constables refuse all first requests – Daily Mail article.

Since the 2008 ruling the government have been trying to find a solution to this problem. The removal of all innocent people’s DNA (who had not been arrested for a violent or sexual offence) from the database was a election pledge by the Liberal Democrats and was included in the Conservative/Liberal Coalition agreement when they formed a government in May 2010. However a final agreement has been difficult to reach given sustained opposition from the police. As of October 2011 there was still debate at a parliamentary and government level into the database with commentators believing (Daily Mail article) that the most likely outcome would be that all DNA taken from suspects who are proved innocent of minor offences being destroyed and the DNA of those arrested for more serious offences kept on file for 3 years; whether this would comply with the ECHR’s judgement is still uncertain (with all people arrested for a violent/sexual offence having the DNA kept for ever as now).

There was also talk in July 2011 (Telegraph article) of innocent peoples DNA already on file (quite possibly with new DNA samples) being retained in an “anonymised” form with the possibility of it being connected to a name if found to be a match to a crime in the future (this is obviously just a way to get around the ECHR ruling – it would hardly be anonymous!).

It will be interesting to see what new legislation is produced in the future about this question, however one thing for sure is that the police will still be taking the DNA of all people arrested (especially for politically motivated offences – such as animal rights) and will desperately be trying to keep hold of whatever they can. There are most likely hundreds of unsolved political cases with unknown DNA matches (Telegraph article) and the police will always been extremely keen to get the DNA of any political campaigner they can in a vain attempt at trying to solve them.

There was also a law passed in 2010 which allows the police to take samples from historic cases (from offenders who were convicted before DNA samples were first routinely taken in 1995).

Daily Mail Article

In Scotland DNA is only kept if someone is convicted of an offence (and is otherwise destroyed) however a new law has just been passed allowing the police to retain the DNA of those arrested for violent/sexual offences for five years even if they are found to be innocent. The Scottish DNA database is added and shared with the English/Welsh database.