back to article Supreme Court: DNA database retention regs are unlawful

The Supreme Court has ruled that guidance on the running of the national DNA database – which states that all collected DNA signatures should be retained other than in "exceptional" circumstances – is unlawful. However the court, noting that Parliament is considering the matter, has declined to specify any remedy for the …


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  1. John Dougald McCallum

    Ball in Parliment

    <Not a ball more like one of these

    1. volsano

      minimum effort

      The government is publicly committed to dragging its feet and then doing the absolute minimum it can get away with and be in arguable compliance with the European Court of Human Right's ruling.

      That "arguable" could mean the current cases drag on for a decade or more while the minimal changes that the gov are reluctantly planning are enacted and then found wanting by the ECHR again.

      The Supreme Court could have short-circuited that by simply making it plain what the ACPO guidelines must include to circumvent jail terms for chief constables.

      Why do we pay Supreme Court judges if they are just going to pass the ball?

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "People arrested"

    Do they seriously propose using whether someone was "arrested" as the main criterion? On the one hand, someone can be arrested for a serious crime by accident, as it were, due to a simple error, mistaken identity or whatever, in which case they are not seriously suspected once the error is rectified. On the other hand, someone can be seriously suspected of a crime without ever being arrested for it: the police might prefer to keep them under covert surveillance, or they might just not be regarded as a flight risk. (Extreme case: the person suspected of a serious crime is already in prison for a minor crime!) Therefore, I would conclude that being "arrested" is a stupid criterion for retaining DNA. The correct criterion should be suspicion, and the criterion should be applied by some kind of court, not the bloody police, who obviously can not be trusted.

    1. Zippy the Pinhead


      "The correct criterion should be suspicion, and the criterion should be applied by some kind of court, not the bloody police, who obviously can not be trusted."

      The absolute correct criterion would be to delete/destroy all data on innocent parties the day the case is closed and keep the DNA data of the guilty.

      1. Anonymous Coward

        "keep the dna data of the guilty"

        Surely you mean " of the convicted"

        Just because the Police and courts decide you are guilty ...... does not mean you actually did it.

        It could mean the Police lied, fabricated evidence and abused your rights.

        The Police are the ones breaking the law here.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    Just curious here...

    But how are fingerprints handled over there? Are they retained indefinitely - do they purge out of the system like they are talking about for DNA?

    I would be curious to know, if they are handled differently, what the rational for that is.

    1. Robert E A Harvey


      Quoting a civil rights web site

      "Previously, fingerprints and DNA samples taken would have to be destroyed in the event of the person being acquitted, or if the charges were dropped or not pursued. Following amendments to PACE by the Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001, the police now have powers to retain fingerprints and DNA samples lawfully taken from any person - regardless of whether or not they are subsequently convicted of an offence."

      PACE=Police And Criminal Evidence act. Had Mugabwe passed it there would have been howls.

  4. Pete B

    Door open now

    Take legal action directly against the ACPO - the highest court in the land has now ruled their actions to be illegal so I don't think you'd have much trobule winning a civil case against them.

    It's time to declare the ACPO an illegal organisation!

  5. Ejit

    Proper Parliament

    You could always get a proper parliament, like Scotland who do not allow any of that retention nonsense.

  6. oldredlion
    Thumb Down

    ACPO there anything they touch that doesn't turn to crap?

    If there is even a chance of empire building or money to be made, there they are.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    Since when

    Has something being unlawful stopped the government / police?

  8. Anonymous Coward

    The ACPO thinks it is the law.

    Just like in Egypt, Syria, Iran, Russia...

    1. Someone Else Silver badge

      ...and the U.S.

      That is all...

    2. Anonymous Coward

      ACPO Ltd

      Wrong! They KNOW they are the law. Have a look at the "about" page on their web site (, and marvel at how they describe themselves as being "in equal and active partnership with government".

      Even IF Parliament passes a law that bans the keeping of DNA data on the innocent, even IF the Supreme Court makes a decision banning ... etc ..., even IF the ECHR makes a decision ... etc ..., ACPO Ltd will still do its own thing and justify it on tourism grounds.

  9. NoneSuch Silver badge
    Thumb Down

    Because... may be innocent today, but I'll bet you will be guilty tomorrow.

  10. katie scarlett

    The title is required, and must contain letters and/or digits. - oh, really!?

    "Under the proposed new laws, the DNA data of those arrested for minor offences but not convicted would not be kept. People arrested for more serious crimes, even if not convicted, would see their data kept on file for three to five years."

    Would someone wiser (coz I am just a woman and foreigner to boot) please explain to me the difference between these two types of innocence? Innocent of minor offence and innocent of serious crime? Because I, in my profound ignorance, cannot see any.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Black Helicopters

      Your never "innocent" in the UK

      If the plod arrest you (typical entry qualifications 5 gcse's grade c) then you clearly did it, its just the stupid CPS/Judge/ whoever didnt nail you for it.

      Therefore, even though your innocent , the fact they liked you enough to arrest you for it means you must have done it.

      A good example would come from the murder of Sally Bowman, the first person arrested for it was caught because his fingerprints where on her front door, not surprising as he was the postman!

      But as he was arrested for a serious crime (murder) his DNA gets to stay on file.

      Thats UK justice for you.

  11. Graham Marsden
    Big Brother

    "The European Court of Human Rights...

    "... ruled against this practice in 2008, but current guidance from the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) states that chief constables" can tell people to fuck off because the ACPO thinks it knows better than the ECHR and the British Government is probably going to do likewise...

  12. K. Adams

    "... not appropriate to [require] a change in the legislative scheme ... or ... destruction of data"

    In other words:

    -- "We don't like DNA retention, either, but we'd rather let the politicians in the Commons get their own hands dirty and stay out of the fray, because we don't want to aggravate a bunch of CPOs or get the Peerage's knickers in a twist."

  13. David Barr
    Thumb Up


    I have less problem with everybodies DNA being held on file, if it really would help solve crimes (would it?). However there seems something wrong with only people who have been questioned being on file.

    Looks like it's time for the plod to format those drives.

    1. A J Stiles

      Think of something you do every day.

      Now think of a future government banning it.

      Even if you stopped doing it at once, what's the chance of a government like that respecting "nulla poena sine lege"?

      That is a good enough reason why your DNA should not be kept on file if you have never committed a crime; nor if you have committed a crime and subsequently been deemed to have repaid your debt to society (there shouldn't even be a distinction). Come to think of it, if you -haven't- repaid your debt to society, then you must still be in prison -- so they don't need your DNA on file then, either.

      So now a DNA database has been shown to be totally unnecessary, the money should be spent on more front-line officers instead.

      1. Zippy the Pinhead

        @ A J

        No you keep the DNA of the convicted because of the threat of repeat offenses.

        1. lpopman

          titular nonsense

          @Zippy the Pinhead:

          Ok then, retain only the DNA of repeat offenders then.

        2. A J Stiles

          threat of repeat offences?

          Er, no, you don't.

          Someone who has repaid their debt to society in full is, by definition, no more likely to re-offend than someone who has never offended is likely to offend the first time. Someone who is extraordinarily likely to re-offend has clearly *not* finished repaying their debt to society -- but that indicates a problem with the prison system.

          Otherwise, you might as well keep everyone's DNA, just on the off-chance that they might commit an offence. And ..... but haven't we been here before?

          1. Alan Firminger


            The DNA record is wholly analogous to fingerprints. And in all my lifetime no-one has ever campaigned to remove the dabs from the record when a sentence is served.

            In fact after a sustained conviction you can never recover innocence because the process of justice is, and has to be, public.

            1. A J Stiles

              Fallacious argument

              Well, they *should* be campaigning to have their fingerprint records removed after their sentence is served. And even if they haven't, that doesn't excuse failing to expunge other records.

              And innocence absolutely *should* be recoverable. Tainting people for life just because they have committed a crime once and already paid for it, is pretty much the *opposite* of justice.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Foolish people

    Don't you realise that both politicians and police are above the law.

    Politicians do not break laws like you an I, they make 'errors of judgements' and 'oversights' ... the police on the other hand break the law willfully (re: Ian Thomlinson) and only get charged when someone films it... and then only of a watered down version of the crime...

    You didn't think democracy meant you have a say about anything did you? (well one question in 5 years, but even then it matters very little as they are all crooked no matter what colour their gang affiliation is!!)

  15. Ken Hagan Gold badge

    Apparently words now speak louder than actions. Terrific!

    "Where Parliament is seized of the matter, it is not appropriate to make an order requiring a change in the legislative scheme within a specific period or an order requiring the destruction of data,"

    But Parliament is not seized of the matter, as is clearly demonstrated by the fact that years have elapsed since them being told they are breaking the law and yet they still haven't done anything.

    One might equally say that Parliament is "seized of the matter of reforming the House of Lords", but it is a century now since they were first "seized" and the only changes have been to replace "sprogs" with "cronies".

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    Not very Supreme, then

    If they've declined to follow up on their judgement then the judgement is meaningless. How long will parliament be 'considering the matter'? What if parliament declines to take note of the Supreme's judgement? Most unsatisfactory. They should have acted now on the basis of their judgement, as that is consistent with their purpose (I assume).

  17. Mark Berry
    Paris Hilton

    If they don't obey the law.....

    Why the hell should I?

    Paris, 'cos at least she doesn't retain her many dna samples (I think!).

  18. Anonymous Coward

    So, how many times do we have to get sued by European courts?

    Before the Supremes do what they're paid to do?

    By God we've paid a lot of fines.

    Surely it's time to start taking those fines out of Ministerial and MP's salaries, given that they are the specific individuals who have broken EU law by passing illegal legislation.

    Doesn't half look like ACPO need to be prosecuted for knowingly and wilfully breaching the law. It is *way* past time that quango was dissolved, as they have now almost single-handedly destroyed the reputation of UK policing.

    I don't know anybody who respects the police these days - they currently police by fear, not consent. That's obviously unsustainable and clearly going to flare into a rather massive general riot sooner or later - I just hope it's far enough away from me that I can stay out of it.

    Here's a thought - how about we implement the necessary cuts to the police budget by dissolving ACPO. I doubt there'll be much shortfall by that point, and no actual policing is affected!

    Then everybody wins.

    1. David Pollard

      @ AC 18th May 2011 20:43 GMT

      "I don't know anybody who respects the police these days..."

      Widespread distrust of the police has indeed been the major effect of the Labour government's excessive zeal in promoting the DNA database as a silver bullet; together with its use by some police to reinforce their prejudices against certain racial and social groups and to proactively target young people presumed to be criminals in the making.

      The main resource that the police have in solving crime is co-operation from the public. And this has been seriously eroded. Not only is the DNA database ineffective, its improper use has made the Britain's traditional policing by consent less effective too.

      Genewatch provides Facts and Figures here:

    2. Libertarian

      Financial responsibility for action.

      It is interesting is it not that local councillors can be surcharged (jointly & severally?) for the full cost of any malfeasance in office, but the real malfeasors, national politicians, are specifically protected (ie: above the law) by virtue of the immunity which they have unilaterally arrogated to themselves? Civil servants are also protected by Crown Impunity masquerading as immunity necessary to perform their functions. The police cannot even be sued for negligence in the performance of their duties however vile their abuse of the powers entrusted to them.

      However, if a public body is successfully sued, who pays (not the milch cow/victim taxpayer by any chance)?

      If this so-called democratic system is not arbitrary and oppressive, then, pray, what is?

      ACPO Ltd is an endogenous (to use the term favoured by the worst chancellor/PM ever inflicted upon this country) private company without any legal powers and was set up by a bunch of civil servants without any lawful authority so to do. It is not even a quango! Chief constables (all officers of ACPO) are merely giving themselves whatever "advice" they want to receive in blatant defiance of the doctrine of nemo iudex in causa sua. It is clearly a criminal organisation and its officers should be prosecuted, not least for conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.

      Any of the MILLION (+) innocent citizens unlawfully stigmatised on its advice up for a class action aimed at bankrupting it? I'm in for one!

      All politicians and civil servants including the police should be personally liable on a joint and several basis for the consequences of their actions to the full extent of their lifetime financial resources (including estimated overseas and/or proxy squirrelings-away). Such proceedings should be conducted on a reversed onus of proof: guilty unless they can prove themselves innocent.

      As to being far enough away from "a massive general riot" to avoid engagement, I would respectfully suggest that you consider how far freedom from arbitrary oppression would have progressed recently in the Arab world if those citizens had taken a similar view. All that is required for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing - as true now as ever.

  19. 88mm a.k.a. Minister for Misbehaviour
    Paris Hilton

    Totalitarian State or Nectar Points

    As a human being born free the thought that as a law abiding citizen my person can be abused in such a way is abhorrent. As a right wing Tory bigot from the throw away the key school of prison management all would be criminals should be tagged at birth. (And they are!). But there is no statute (or if there is it is ignored) that lays out how the DNA (or any other Government database for that matter) may be used/abused in the future. Our recent census records are no longer under the sacrosanct 100 year rule but are considered likely to be sifted and pertinent information sold on to whoever feels the need to pay for it. This already happens with the DVLA database (£2.4m last year) and if a recent cold caller is to be believed, the Child Protection Register too. That's right, as a parent of a disabled child, my son is on the 'At Risk Register'. Nice huh! Nothing like consolidation for efficiency. I will be putting in an FOI request soon to see if there is any truth to this particular allegation. Don't forget, your DNA can mark you out as a bad life insurance/mortgage risk and Lord knows what else. When your ballot paper voting is recorded via barcode and the high priests and priestesses of the EU sit unelected it would be nice to have at least some safe guards for the DNA database et al but I'm not holding my breath. Mandatory Swine flu vaccinations are next, watch this space. Resistance is not futile.

    Paris (always) because she can sample my DNA anytime.

  20. peter_dtm

    yeah well but no maybe

    they normally quote million to one chance of being wrong match

    well what I want to know is; with 60 million people in the UK - where are the other 59 people who match ? Have they found any of them ?

    one out of 60 - sounds like reasonable doubt to me...

    1. Grumpy Old Fart
      Big Brother

      more maybe than no, yeah?

      If I remember right, and I'm buggered if I can find it, there was a case recently where the top DNA boffin recanted on the 'million to one' accuracy because of the difficulties of getting good samples from forensic evidence (or something like that).

      It's down to 'hundred thousand to one' now, because of that, which does mean that trawling DNA databases of every crook in the country for a potential match is pointless, and DNA should be treated as purely circumstantial evidence now.

      However, while the police are measured on rates of conviction, rather than amount of actual justice done, nothing will change.

      1. Anonymous Coward


        Remember that the police are NOT measured on rates of conviction, Teresa May, the Home Secretary, has abolished all those NuLabour targets. Except that ACPO Ltd carries on as though no one heard them. See Inspector Gadget's blog. []

        ACPO Ltd are just like a naughty child. They will keep on pushing the boundaries until someone gives them a good slapping down.

    2. EvilGav 1

      It's a high number . . .

      . . . when you quote it in a certain way.

      It's roughly 1:250,000,000 DNA profiles* that are the same. Which sounds impressive.

      But that means it's a 1:20 chance that you have the right person in the dock.

      The water gets even muddier when you take into account that the most likely people with the same DNA profile* as you are also directly related to you, so therefore also highly likely to be in or around the same area as the crime commited!!

      A DNA profile* match should be used as an extra piece of convicting evidence, never, ever the sole piece of evidence (and in reality it rarely is, it's basically the icing on the cake of the prosecution case).

      The problem with having a database of DNA profiles* is that it becomes the easy place to look first, rather than being one of the last places you look and look merely for corobarating evidence.

      * Always remember that they are DNA profiles, not a DNA string. If they actually used the latter, then it would be a 1:1 match, but a DNA profile is created by using a chemical to break the DNA string when a certain combination occurs within the string and the resultant strand lengths are used to create the profile - the lovely barcode looking thing. The profile knows nothing of the actual chromosones in your DNA strand, just the lengths of strands when split by a chemical process, hence the lack of accuracy.

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Not appropriate?

    '"Where Parliament is seized of the matter, it is not appropriate to make an order requiring a change in the legislative scheme within a specific period or an order requiring the destruction of data," says the judgment.'

    Dear sir, is it appropriate for the Supreme Court to do nothing while the people's Basic Human Rights as decreed by the European Court of Human Rights are being violated by a semi-official organisation that thinks is above the law? Not to mention the ACPO.

  22. T J
    Big Brother

    Why is this still being argued?

    Why is this still being argued? It should be more DIFFICULT to take the samples in the first place, and NO, they should not be retained except for conviction of VIOLENT CRIME.

    Start sanding your Telescreens, for humanity's sake.

  23. Anonymous Coward

    If the Spreme Court judges have flouted the ECHR law

    ...take ther DNA and hold it for ever.

  24. Purlieu


    Sounds like the Supreme court is distinctly lacking in DNA.

    Too many "should"s and not enough "must"s.

  25. Peter Galbavy
    Big Brother

    "exceptional circumstances"

    ... means "member of the inner circle of the totalitarian regime that runs England".

  26. Sam Therapy

    What's wrong with this picture?

    Correct me if I'm wrong but wasn't Cameron blathering on about how they were giving people their freedoms back by deleting DNA records of innocent people? Except, of course, for those who were charged of a "serious offence", guilty or not?

    Anyhow, I said it before and I'll say it again...

    Until DNA records of *all* those not convicted of an offence are deleted, any pronouncements/rulings/recommendations are nothing but bullshit PR spin.

    And for good measure why is everyone blaming Blair for this? Much as I dislike the guy, I don't see many (rather any) politico rushing to change anything implemented when he was PM

  27. JaitcH

    ACPO guidance which the Supreme Court has now deemed unlawful ....

    Once again the unregulated ACPO is wrong.

    Why doesn't the Home Office, a ministry rather than a prejudiced bunch of under-employed chief's of police, pass a LAW? Guidance is a recommendation and has little force in law.

    The Supreme Court also failed: it should have struck down the ACPO 'guidance' and suspended it for 12 months to allow Parliament to get it's act together. All we have now is an indeterminate process.

    Hardly justice.

  28. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

    Isn't it time... get rid of the ACPO or bring it under the umbrella of government, so that it can be properly regulated? It seems to me that there is a complete lack of regulation in the higher levels of our police 'service', which leads to a lack of accountability. Surely chief police officers should report to government (e.g. the Home Office), not a a nebulous organisation such as the ACPO? The decisions made by these people should be based on the law, not on what they decide the law says.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      To be fair

      they do report to the Home Office. They do NO report to ACPO - they are though members and the organisation is both publicly funded and raises money through other services (some apparently more dodgy than others). The problem is that (well one of them) that ACPO can do both a good job (I know, I have worked with members very concerned with improving policing outcomes in their broadest interpretation) and also enable some chief constables to do what the hell they want without adequate oversight (ANPR anyone).

      To some extent ACPO seems to have flourished because it could get good things done without excessive overheads, but of course it works the other way as wel.

  29. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    Still *planning* this legislation

    FFS How complex does this bill have to be?

    I think the the ECHR requirement is fairly straightforward.

    This should be a *short* tight highly focused piece of legislation which should have *broad* cross party support.

    What's it got to say? Basically make the English and Welsh DNA retention policy match that of Scotland.

    Now how f**king complex was that?

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