Monday, September 10, 2007

ECHR to look at keeping DNA of innocents

The Independent reports this morning that judges in the European Court of Human Rights are to consider the retention by police of the DNA of suspects who subsequently acquitted or not charged of a crime.

"Police could lose the power to keep DNA samples taken from suspects who have been cleared of any wrongdoing, in a landmark case which is to be decided by the highest court in Europe.

A ruling against the British Government could lead to the destruction of tens of thousands of DNA and fingerprint materials as well as deal a severe blow to any plans to create a universal genetic database.

The challenge at the European Court of Human Rights is being brought by a teenager, known as S, who was arrested and charged with attempted robbery aged 11 in 2001, and Michael Marper, from Sheffield, who was arrested on harassment charges, aged 38, in the same year. Both were cleared and have no criminal records...

European judges in Strasbourg believe the issue is so important that they have decided to fast-track the case to go before the grand chamber, where all the Strasbourg justices will sit to determine the matter.

The decision has been taken because the court decided that the case raises a serious question affecting the interpretation of the European Convention on Human Rights or because its resolution might have a result inconsistent with a previous judgment of the court."

In the light of previous calls by Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and other members of the Nu Labour government and just last week a similar call from a respected law lord for the expansion of the DNA database, it is good to see the ECHR stepping in to assess the substantive issues. It's a case to be watched very closely, though whatever the outcome it will, sadly, be hyped up as a massive defeat or victory for the government.

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