GeneWatch PR: Response to police powers review

GeneWatch UK today criticised yesterday's Government proposals to expand police powers to collect DNA and fingerprints in new "shopping centre jails" (1). The new proposals would give the police or designated 'Identification Officers' the power to collect DNA and fingerprints in temporary holding facilities set up in shopping centres. Currently this would apply to all persons aged ten or above arrested for a recordable offence, whose computerised DNA profiles and biological samples would be kept until after their death even if they are not charged with any offence.

Dr Helen Wallace, Director of GeneWatch UK said: "The Government has neatly side-stepped the problem of our over-crowded police cells by proposing to turn the whole country into one." and warned, "There are major safety issues with collecting DNA outside of police stations. Police powers to use 'reasonable force' to pull out someone's hair should not be exercised outside a place of safety. Expanding numbers of non-police staff also increase the likelihood that criminals will infiltrate the system and obtain the DNA of vulnerable persons whose identity needs to be protected".

The proposals are open for consultation until 28th November, but will not be subject to full scrutiny by parliament, because an amendment to the Criminal Justice Act 2003 simplified the procedure by which the Government can amend codes of practice under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE).

The review's original proposals to expand DNA and fingerprint collection to persons arrested for non-recordable offences such as dropping litter (2) have been put on hold pending the judgement of the European Court of Human Rights in the Marper case (3).

In the proposals the Government also plans to increase police powers to:

  • Enter premises to arrest mental health patients, even when they pose no danger to others and are not suspected of committing a crime;
  • Enter people's homes without a warrant, including when not in uniform and therefore unidentifiable to occupants;
  • Seize "entire premises" such as caravans, tents, cars and all their contents;
  • Search for missing persons who pose no danger to the public and are not suspected of committing any crime;
  • Allow children to be questioned without the presence of their parents or guardians.

In addition, the Government proposes allowing a court to draw adverse inferences from a person's refusal to co-operate in an ID procedure.

"The police need powers to do their job, which is catching criminals" said Dr Wallace, "The Government is wrong to try to use them to try to populate its controversial databases and implement surveillance on law-abiding citizens".

A further consultation is also likely to consider expanding police powers to access personal medical information, such as that held in electronic medical records (paragraphs 9.10 to 9.12). In the future, this is likely to include DNA collected for health purposes.

For further information contact:

Dr Helen Wallace: 01298-24300 (office): 07903-311584 (mobile).

Notes for editors:

(1) Government proposals in response to the review of the police and criminal evidence act 1984:

(2) The proposals were opposed by the Association of Chief Police Officers, who warned that the Government was in danger of criminalising ordinary citizens. More information on:

(3) The case of two individuals (Marper and S - a juvenile), who are objecting to their DNA and fingerprints being retained despite no criminal conviction, was heard by the European Court in February and a judgement is awaited.

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