At present, police complaint solicitors are awaiting a judgement from the Supreme Court in R (on the application of C) (FC) v Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis to finally make a decision on the retention of DNA samples and fingerprints.
The Association of Chief Police Officers’ 2006 guidance gives Chief Officers the discretion to delete information on the police national computer (PNC) and to destroy DNA and fingerprints, ‘in exceptional cases’.
In S and Marper UK (2009), the Grand Chamber in the European Court of Human Rights handed down the decision that the UK’s indiscriminate retention of DNA samples and fingerprints was incompatible with Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, “Right to a Private Life’.
The passing of the Human Rights Act 1998, should have forced the Government to re-think the police policies about the retention of DNA samples and fingerprints.
However, it probably won’t come as a surprise that many police forces throughout England and Wales still retain DNA samples and fingerprints following a person’s arrest, regardless of whether they have been wrongfully arrested, been found not guilty, or released with no further action due to lack of evidence.
Some people, who may never have had the misfortune of finding themselves under suspicion by the police and thereafter arrested, might say “if you haven’t got anything to hide why should you be worried’. And perhaps in an ideal world, that would be the case.
However I have come across many cases in which DNA samples and fingerprints taken many years in the past has come back to haunt people unfairly.
One such case involved an individual in their 40s being arrested at an airport in the UK whilst they were sat waiting to go on holiday with their partner. Upon checking in for their flight, the airport the security systems picked up on an outstanding arrest warrant and the client was arrested shortly afterwards. The individual was detained and kept in custody for a period of 20 hours, thereby missing their flight, leaving them unable to go on their holiday.
(Without giving too many details away, the occupation of the individual concerned provided a full and unquestionable reason as to why their fingerprints would be picked up at the scene of crime and it was agreed by the force in question that the client should not have been arrested and the mix up should have been resolved at the airport).
Pertinent to the matter of DNA/fingerprint records, the client had no idea that as the result of a mistake made as a teenager, some 25 years ago, his records were still held on the Police National Computer.
As a result, they were wrongly arrested, their liberty was taken away from them, and their holiday unnecessarily ruined. Furthermore, the individual now lives in constant fear that a similar situation may occur again. It should be noted that following this incident, a request was made to the police force in question that the DNA and fingerprints of the individual concerned be destroyed. This request was refused.
If the guidelines were changed to comply with the European Court of Human Rights Judgement, then perhaps this incident would never have happened and similar occurrences would likewise be prevented.
There are many arguments for and against compliance, and we will just have to await the Judgment of the Supreme Court as to which argument succeeds.