New Clause 1 — Retention, destruction and use of fingerprints and samples
Crime and Security Bill
James Brokenshire (- Shadow Minister, Home Affairs; Hornchurch, Conservative)
That has been highlighted by what might be described as the postcode lottery, an issue on which I know the right hon. Gentleman has focused clearly. The fact that certain police forces are prepared, in exceptional circumstances, under guidance from the Association of Chief Police Officers, to remove the profiles of those never convicted of and never charged with an offence, whereas other police forces will not remove any of those details, has drawn attention to the issue. However, the right hon. Gentleman needs to be careful. An individual must approach the police to have that record removed. There is a big difference between a robust system that reflects the concept that people are innocent unless proven guilty and proactively removes those profiles, and a system whereby profiles are removed only when an individual approaches the police with that request.
The make-up of the database has had a starkly disproportionate impact on minority communities. It is thought to contain the records of about 40 per cent. of black men in the UK. Some have suggested that when the focus is narrowed to young black men, the figure jumps to 70 per cent. That compares with 13 per cent. of Asian men and 9 per cent. of white men. The national DNA database and the approach taken to it are perceived to have criminalised minority communities and to have taken an almost aggressive stance towards them. I know, from the discussions that I have had, that the issue is of significant concern for a number of those communities.
More fundamentally, the measure fails to take account of one of the fundamental principles of our liberal democracy: the presumption of innocence before the law unless one has been proven guilty. That principle should be an important guiding factor in framing the debate on retention, rather than being an inconvenient anomaly, as the Government appear to view it, given their historical approach to DNA retention.
However, we agree with the Government on some things: DNA samples should be destroyed as soon as practicable, once a profile has been taken; when an adult has been convicted of a recordable offence, DNA should be retained indefinitely; and when consent to put DNA profiles on the database has been volunteered, the withdrawal of that consent should be possible. We have also long argued for the need to ensure that police can retrospectively take samples for a longer period after conviction, and from those convicted overseas. We are therefore glad that the Government have responded positively to that call, and we welcome their changes to improve the oversight and reporting of the national DNA database. I welcome also their amendments to clarify that arrangement and make it somewhat stronger.