DNA database: Parliament and consultations

DNA database: Parliament and consultations section

This page provides information about consultations, reports, inquiries, debates and Parliamentary Questions about the DNA database asked in the Westminster Parliament. It also provides information on consultations conducted by other bodies, such as the Human Genetics Commission and the Nuffield Council on Bioethics.

The law on DNA in Scotland is different from England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Information about consultations on DNA in Scotland is available here.

The law in Northern Ireland is the same as in England and Wales, but it has not yet been fully implemented and less public information is available. The process of changing the law on DNA in Northern Ireland did not involve any consultation and is described in this GeneWatch briefing. Like Scotland, Northern Ireland has its own DNA database but DNA records are also sent to the National DNA Database in England.

Government consultations

In 2007, the Home Office proposed further expanding the National DNA Database by taking DNA on arrest for dropping litter in shopping centres. Read more about the proposals and responses to the Home Office consultation here, including serious concerns from the police.

Following this consultation, the Home Office held a second one, which included proposals to take DNA and fingerprints in "Short Term Holding Facilities" (SHTFs) in shopping centres, but delayed a decision on whether to expand DNA collection further until after the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in the Marper case.

You can read more about the Marper case and what the government has said it plans to do in response to the ECtHR judgment here.

In May 2009, the Home Office launched a consultation to inform new regulations about who should be on the DNA database. The Government's decision to seek powers for the Home Secretary to write the regulations, via an amendment to the Policing and Crime Bill, has been controversial in parliament, because it prevents MPs from having a say about who should be on the database.

Parliamentary Committees

The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee published its Forensic Science on Trial report in March 2005. It concluded that the arguments for the retention of DNA profiles of suspects who are not ultimately convicted needed to be balanced against any potential infringement of civil liberties, and recommended a review of the impact of the National DNA Database on the detection and deterrence of crime. The report also criticised the oversight of the database, especially the lack of an ethics board and a forensic regulator, and called for independent research to assess the public attitude towards retention of DNA samples (both from convicted criminals and others), and the evidence of benefits associated with this practice.

The European Union Committee's May 2007 report Pruem: An effective weapon against terrorism and crime? expressed concerns about the implications of plans to share DNA profile matches with other EU countries, in view of the much larger size of the National DNA Database than those in other countries. It also criticised the German Presidency for putting the proposal forward without an impact or cost assessment or sufficient time for consultation.

In its surveillance society report, published in June 2008, the Home Affairs Committee called for a new regulatory framework for the Database, the correction of inaccuracies in data, consultation to clarify the purposes and processes of DNA collection and retention, and primary legislation to allow full parliamentary scrutiny of the new framework. The Committee also concluded that a more accessible mechanism by which individuals can challenge retention of their records is needed, and the need to retain biological samples should be reviewed. The Home Affairs Committee has also twice expressed concerns about the racial bias in the database. In its 2007 report it highlighted estimates that 77% of young black men have records on the DNA database. In a 2009 report, the Committee again expressed concerns about the disproportionate effect of the database on black men.

The Lords' Constitution Committee published its report 'Surveillance: Citizens and the State' in February 2009. In its press release, the Committee warned that, "The rise in surveillance and data collection by the state and private sector risks undermining the fundamental relationship between the state and citizens, which is the cornerstone of democracy and good governance". The report recommended that the Government undertakes more public dialogue and engagement before implementing policies relating to surveillance and data processing, and also that it involves non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in policy development. The report also states: "We believe that the retention of DNA profiles on the NDNAD potentially impinges on civil liberties. DNA profiles provide the state with large amounts of personal information about its citizens that could, in the future, be used for malign purposes."

The Committee's recommendations in relation to DNA are:

  1. We believe that DNA profiles should only be retained on the National DNA Database (NDNAD) where it can be shown that such retention is justified or deserved. We expect the Government to comply fully, and as soon as possible, with the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights in the case of S. and Marper v. the United Kingdom, and to ensure that the DNA profiles of people arrested for, or charged with, a recordable offence but not subsequently convicted are not retained on the NDNAD for an unlimited period of time.
  2. Whilst a universal National DNA Database would be more logical than the current arrangements, we think that it would be undesirable both in principle on the grounds of civil liberties, and in practice on the grounds of cost.
  3. We recommend that the law enforcement authorities should improve the transparency of consent procedures and forms in respect of the National DNA Database (NDNAD). We believe that the DNA profiles of volunteers should as a matter of law be removed from the NDNAD at the close of an inquiry unless the volunteer consents to its retention.
  4. We are concerned that the National DNA Database (NDNAD) is not governed by a single statute. We recommend that the Government introduce a bill to replace the existing regulatory framework, providing an opportunity to reassess the rules on the length of time for which DNA profiles are retained, and to provide regulatory oversight of the NDNAD.

The Nuffield Council on Bioethics

The Nuffield Council on Bioethics held a consultation and published a report in September 2007, calling for innocent people to be removed from the Database.

The Human Genetics Commission

The Human Genetic Commission is the Government's official advisory body on human genetics, including DNA databases.

The Human Genetics Commission published the findings of its Citizens' Inquiry into the National DNA Database in July 2008. It held a consultation following the Inquiry and published its findings in a report in November 2009.


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