A brief legal history of the NDNAD

The following gives just a brief outline of the recent legal changes that have taken place in the way the police can take, store and use DNA samples. The law in Scotland is different and is considered here

1984:  The police were allowed to ask doctors to obtain a blood sample to use for DNA testing to help with the investigation of serious crimes, with the consent of volunteers. However, forensic DNA technology was still fairly limited in its use at this time.

1993:  The Royal Commission on Criminal Justice recommended that a forensic DNA database be established. The main driver was concern about public confidence in the criminal justice system as a whole, following a number of high-profile miscarriages of justice, for example the Birmingham Six, who had been jailed for planting an IRA bomb, but whose convictions were subsequently quashed. The database was proposed as a more objective form of forensic identification, with as much potential to eliminate suspects as to secure convictions.

1994:  The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act (CJPOA) enabled the NDNAD to be established. The Act changed the rules around collecting tissue samples by reclassifying saliva samples and mouth swabs as non-intimate and changing the circumstances in which a non-intimate sample could be taken without consent. This meant the police could now take samples without assistance from a doctor and could collect mouth scrapes and hair roots by force if necessary. The Act gave the police the powers to speculatively search the database for matches between DNA profiles. It also changed the rules around the type of offence, from any 'serious, arrestable' offence to any 'recordable' offence (these include all but the most trivial offences) which greatly widened the pool of suspects. The law stated that if a person was subsequently found guilty, their information could be stored on the database and their sample kept indefinitely; if they were not charged or were acquitted, the data and the sample had to be destroyed.

1996: The Criminal Procedure and Investigations Act extended the power of the police to search profiles obtained across the whole of the UK, including Scotland, Northern Ireland, Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man.

1997:  The Criminal Evidence (Amendment) Act allowed non-intimate samples to be taken without consent from individuals who were still in prison having been convicted for a sex, violence or burglary offence prior to the NDNAD being set up in 1995.

2001:  The Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001 amended the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE) to allow all samples (and fingerprints) collected in England, Wales and Northern Ireland to be retained indefinitely, irrespective of whether the person had been acquitted. Another amendment also allowed samples to be retained indefinitely from volunteers taking part in mass screenings, on the condition that they had freely given their consent.

2003:  The Criminal Justice Act 2003 extended police powers once again to allow DNA profiles, fingerprints and other information to be taken without consent from anyone simply arrested in England or Wales on suspicion of any recordable offence. This includes all but the most trivial offences. The new legislation also allows the police to keep this information indefinitely, even if the person arrested is never charged. This gives the NDNAD the most extensive list of people in the world. No other police force has greater freedom to obtain, use and store genetic information from its citizens.

2004: In April 2004, the Criminal Justice Act 2003 came into force. The Criminal Justice (Northern Ireland) Order 2004 extended the powers to collect DNA on arrest for any recordable offence to Northern Ireland.

2005: The Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 extended the uses of the National DNA Database to include the identification of deceased persons or body parts.

2008: The Counter-Terrorism Act 2008 extended police powers to allow DNA and fingerprints to be taken from persons subject to control orders; to be collected during any authorised secret surveillance and retained indefinitely; to be searched against material held by the Security Service or Secret Intelligence Service; and to be used 'in the interests of national security'.

2010: The Crime and Security Act 2010 was adopted in response to the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights in the Marper case. It allows the retention of innocent people's DNA records and fingerprints for 6 years after arrest. Innocent people's Police National Computer records will continue to be kept indefinitely. DNA samples taken on arrest, which are currently stored in commercial laboratories, will be destroyed once the computerised DNA profiles have been obtained from them, not later than 6 months after the sample is taken.

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