25th May 2006
GeneWatch UK today welcomed the decision by the Scottish Parliament to reject a proposal to allow the police to store all DNA taken on arrest permanently.
"Scotland has sent a strong signal to London today that blanket retention of all DNA by the police poses an unacceptable threat to civil liberties", said Dr Helen Wallace, Deputy Director of GeneWatch UK. "England and Wales are isolated internationally as the only countries where DNA can be kept permanently from thousands of innocent people, including children. This practice has done little to solve crime and has instead lost public trust in police use of DNA ".
However, GeneWatch also warned that many people convicted of relatively minor offences in Scotland still have their DNA kept for life and that the law still fails to restrict uses of the samples or information derived from them. Both DNA profiles (the string of numbers used for identification purposes) and DNA samples, which contain more sensitive genetic information, are retained.
"Further safeguards are still needed to prevent misuse of stored DNA and set time limits for removal from the Database of people convicted of relatively minor crimes. We hope this important decision is the beginning of a debate in Scotland about these additional safeguards".
The Scottish Parliament agreed to expand police powers to retain some DNA from innocent people, but only in specific circumstances. MSPs voted to allow retention of DNA from some adults charged with but not convicted of violent or sexual offences for 3 years, after which the police must apply to a Sheriff if they want to keep the DNA sample and information for a further 2 years. They rejected amendments which would have allowed DNA to be taken from children accused of sexual offences and kept permanently.
For further information contact:
Dr Helen Wallace, GeneWatch UK: 01298-871898 (office); 07903-311584(mobile).