Leading article: Why a presumption of guilt?

Share
Related Topics

If any single innovation epitomises the inroads that the State has made on our civil liberties in recent years, the DNA database is surely it. Covering the whole of the UK, except for Scotland, it currently holds profiles of 4.5 million people, one in five of whom has been convicted of no crime. Last year, in one of its most strongly-worded rulings, the European Court of Human Rights judged that the database was illegal in retaining all profiles indefinitely and not differentiating between criminals and those who had been cleared.

After five months of deliberation, the Government has finally given its response, and a grudging and pusillanimous response it is, too. While heeding the court's instruction to make a distinction between different grades of offences and not to keep profiles in perpetuity, it has done so only in a minimalist and profoundly unconvincing way.

While the profiles of those who have been arrested but either not charged or not convicted will be deleted from the database, the timetable is tardy in the extreme. The profile of anyone arrested for a less serious offence will remain on the database for six years, while those arrested for a serious, violent or sexual crime (but not convicted) will have their records held for 12.

DNA profiles are immensely useful, especially in helping to solve past, or difficult, cases. And they do not only convict, they also absolve. But to hear ministers defending the changes yesterday, you would have thought that legions of criminals would run free. Their arguments came perilously close to pre-emption: a desire to keep tabs on people who just might be trouble – as though British justice had a presumption of guilt, rather than innocence.

The Government is making things far harder for itself than it needs to. As the European Court pointed out, it has a model of how to manage a DNA database north of the border. In Scotland, a profile is deleted as soon as the accused is cleared; in cases of serious or sexual crime, it may be kept for five years even if there has been no conviction, but only if a court agrees. This seemed fair and reasonable to the European Court, and it seems fair and reasonable to us.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Mobile Developer (.NET / C# / Jason / Jquery / SOA)

£40000 - £65000 per annum + bonus + benefits + OT: Ampersand Consulting LLP: M...

Humanities Teacher - Greater Manchester

£22800 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: The JobAt ...

Design Technology Teacher

£22800 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: Calling al...

Foundation Teacher

£100 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: EYFS Teachers - East Essex...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Critics of Fiona Woolf say she should step down amid accusations of an establishment cover-up  

Fiona Woolf resignation: As soon as she became the story, she had to leave

James Ashton
 

Letters: Electorate should be given choice on drugs policy

Independent Voices
Bryan Adams' heartstopping images of wounded British soldiers to go on show at Somerset House

Bryan Adams' images of wounded soldiers

Taken over the course of four years, Adams' portraits are an astonishing document of the aftermath of war
The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

Fall of the Berlin Wall

It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
Paul Scholes column: Beating Manchester City is vital part of life at Manchester United. This is first major test for Luke Shaw, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao – it’s not a game to lose

Paul Scholes column

Beating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
Frank Warren: Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing

Frank Warren column

Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing
Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

Adrian Heath's American dream...

Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities