Royal Commission on Criminal Justice: National data bank of suspects' DNA profiles supported: Terry Kirby reports on recommendations allowing police to take hair and saliva samples

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The Independent Online
A NATIONAL data bank of DNA profiles from all people arrested for serious offences should be established to assist in the investigation of crime, the Royal Commission recommends.

Half the data bank would consist of identifiable prints taken from those who are convicted, in the same way that fingerprints are currently retained, for future matching against samples from the scenes of crimes.

The second half would be an anonymous statistical base comprising all profiles, including those from people who are acquitted, to help scientists make estimates of the frequency of profiles in the population at large.

The commission says it is 'proper and desirable' for police to take non- intimate samples, such as hair or saliva, from all those arrested for serious offences, whether or not it is relevant to the offence. The data bank should be governed by clear safeguards and overseen by an independent body. The plans were welcomed last night by the police service, which has pressed for such a recommendation.

The report also proposes powers for police to take samples with consent from those arrested for less serious offences. But where a suspect refuses intimate or non-intimate samples, a jury should be allowed to draw an inference, as is the case in serious offences.

The commission has rejected a call from the police to make refusal to supply a sample an offence in itself. But the proposal to reclassify saliva as a non-intimate sample - as in Northern Ireland - will mean police can take such samples without consent from suspects. The proposals, together with a recommendation that the police can use 'reasonable force' to remove drugs from the mouths of suspects, are likely to cause concern among civil libertarians.

Plans to improve access to forensic science for the defence fall short of what many lawyers would like. Rather than a wholly independently appointed and maintained service, the commission says that the existing Forensic Science Service and the Metropolitan Police laboratory should continue with their policy of allowing access to defence lawyers.

The commission advocates a Forensic Science Advisory Council to oversee standards and provision, including a code of ethics and duties of disclosure - two areas where failures by scientists which have been identified in a number of miscarriages of justice, including the Maguire Family and the Stefan Kisko case. The defence should also be given an enforceable right of access to material held by the prosecution. Reformers may question whether these measures go far enough.