The Socialist 10 December 2008 |
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DNA evidence - Labour's draconian laws...
CLAUSE 18 of the Counter-terrorism Bill 2008 will allow DNA and fingerprints to be gathered and held by a vast range of public bodies ranging from the security services to local councils. Such material will be available for 'national security' purposes, investigating and prosecuting crime, or for identification.
David Radlett, lecturer in law, University of Kent (personal capacity)
The body holding the material can allow checks to be made against it, or against information derived from it, and may disclose it to any person.
This will cause a surge in the national DNA database, which already contains the details of 4.43 million people (730,000 or so of whom have not been convicted of, or even cautioned for, any offence).
Material presently held on the database must have been taken from a person who has been arrested on suspicion of something (not that this provides any safeguard).
What the Counter-terrorism Bill 2008 does, amongst many other things, is allow the investigatory authorities to collect - in secret - DNA material from people who are merely being kept under surveillance.
The safeguards in the bill are risible. That is bad enough. However, the government is trying to use its control of the House of Commons to defeat an attempt by the House of Lords to add a set of rules under which a person could seek information regarding DNA evidence taken from them, and perhaps have that evidence destroyed.
Opposing such a modest proposal is even worse. What borders on the unbelievable is their excuse that the proposal involves: "a charge on public funds, and the Commons do not offer any further Reason, trusting that this Reason may be deemed sufficient".
So, officers of the state will be encouraged to grub around looking for used cups or drinking glasses, cigarette stubs or other material containing trace elements of DNA emanating from a person who may very well never be charged with an offence, never mind convicted of one.
The limited controls that apply to material taken from suspects will not apply here. And a government that spends billions on wars and bailing out the spivs and ne'er-do-wells in the banks and the City, pleads that it cannot afford the civil service time to work out a set of regulations under which a person could seek information regarding DNA evidence held on file, and have that evidence destroyed (if, perhaps, they were innocent of any criminal offence). So the government continues its relentless campaign to trample over civil liberties.
...condemned by European court
ON 4 December the European Court of Human Rights ruled that it is illegal for the police to retain the records of innocent people's DNA and fingerprints.
A unanimous verdict condemned the "blanket and indiscriminate nature" of laws in England, Wales and Northern Ireland in collecting suspects' DNA and fingerprints. In the case of one of the appellants to the court, a 12-year old boy was arrested and charged with attempted robbery in 2001, but cleared five months later. His DNA records, however, were kept seven years further on.
Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said she was 'disappointed' at the European Court's decision, which is not binding on the government, and is considering what action to take.
The decision will probably have marginal impact on this New Labour government, although it may make them consider 'limiting' the evidence retention period to 25 years as is the case in France.