Retention of innocent people's DNA and fingerprint records by police is illegal, the European Court of Human Rights has ruled, but British ministers have failed to say they will observe the landmark decision.
The unanimous judgment by the Strasbourg court condemned the "blanket and indiscriminate nature" of powers given to police in England, Wales and Northern Ireland in collecting and storing DNA and fingerprint evidence of suspects. The Government has not immediately said it will comply with the ruling by bringing in laws that would destroy nearly a million DNA samples taken from suspects who have been exonerated by the police and courts. Instead, the Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, said she was "disappointed" by the judgment and confirmed the law would remain unchanged while ministers consider what, if any, action, to take.
In the Strasbourg court, two Sheffield men asked that their DNA records be destroyed. Michael Marper, 45, was arrested in 2001 and charged with harassing his partner, but the case was dropped three months later after the two were reconciled. He had no previous convictions. And a 19-year-old named in court only as "S" was arrested and charged with attempted robbery in 2001 when he was 12, but was cleared five months later.
It is a well established convention that United Kingdom governments comply with ECHR rulings. If the Government does not accept the new judgment it could provoke a constitutional crisis between ministers and judges in Strasbourg who act as the final court of appeal for human rights laws across Europe.
Yesterday human rights groups welcomed the judgment and called for the Government to follow Scotland where police routinely destroy profiles of those either acquitted or not charged.
The ruling could have important implications for fingerprint databases; the judges said holding innocent people's details could infringe their rights.Reuse content