The European Court of Human Rights could influence the UK DNA database

By EDRi · September 12, 2007

Sir Stephen Sedley has recently proposed the enlargement of the DNA database
in UK to cover the entire population and visitors that stay in UK even for a
week, under the argument of creating a fairer system and eliminating the
ethnical unbalance in the present database. But a case brought by 2 English
people to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) could change a lot in
how the database will operate.

The UK DNA database is one of the largest in the world covering data from
everybody having had anything to do with any crime, minor or major, guilty
or not. According to Sadley, the database is biased against ethnic
minorities. “It means where there is ethnic profiling going on
disproportionate numbers of ethnic minorities get onto the database. It also
means that a great many people who are walking the streets and whose DNA
would show them guilty of crimes, go free.”

The proposal met opposition from the Prime Minister who believes that would
raise civil liberties concerns but also complicated logistical issues.

Shami Chakrabarti, director of human rights organization Liberty, also said
that a database for everybody in the country was “a chilling proposal, ripe
for indignity, error and abuse”.

The present UK DNA database is already raising issues related to the way
people’s data are included in it. Shadow home secretary David Davis
considers the system is arbitrary and erratic. The highest concern is
related to the fact that the data of people proven innocent cannot be
removed from the database. And this is exactly what has triggered a case at
the ECHR, that could change the whole situation.

The case was brought in front of ECHR by Michael Marper and a teenager,
known as S, both arrested in 2001, the former on harassment charges and the
latter with attempted robbery. They were both cleared and with no criminal
records. In 2002 they required their data to be removed from the Home Office
database but the Court of Appeal ruled against it. Among the appeal judges
that heard the case was Sir Stephen Sedley that proposed a “universal DNA
database” even in that judgment.

Mr Marper and the juvenile argued that keeping their fingerprints and DNA
samples was an infringement of their private life rights as per Article 8 of
the European Convention on Human Rights. Their concern is related mostly to
the possible future misuse of their data.

The situation seems to be now in the hands of ECHR. A ruling by
ECHR against the British Government could not only stop Lord Justice’s
proposal to enlarge the DNA database but also lead to the destruction of the
DNA and fingerprint evidence of people that have been found innocent. The
case is considered important by the judges in Strasbourg as they have sent
the case before the grand chamber, because it raises a serious problem
affecting the interpretation of the European Convention on Human Rights.

“This decision by the European Court of Human Rights gives us significant
hope that these cases will finally result in a massive change in the law –
providing protection for those acquitted of crimes against their
fingerprints and DNA samples being kept, putting them on a level footing
with those not previously accused of any crimes (…) We think this will be
one of the most important human rights challenges the court has grappled
with in recent years” stated Peter Mahy, a civil liberties specialist at
Sheffield-based Howells who represent Marper and “S”.

All UK ‘must be on DNA database’ (5.09.2007)

Plan to put everyone in DNA database hinges on human rights case (7.09.2007)

Europe to rule on whether police can keep DNA of innocent people (8.09.2007)

EDRI-gram : UK Home Office plans to fingerprint children starting 11