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'No plan' for DNA samples for all

BBC News | September 2, 2007

There are no plans to make it compulsory for everyone in the UK to be on the national DNA database, the government has said.

The comment comes after a senior judge called for all UK residents and visitors to be required to provide a DNA sample to help police solve crimes.

Lord Justice Sedley said this would make the present database in England and Wales fairer and less biased.

The database currently holds details of four million people's DNA.

Each month, some 30,000 more samples from suspects or DNA recovered from crime scenes are added to the database, making it the largest in the world.

'Ripe for abuse'

It includes some 24,000 samples from young people aged between 10 and 17, who were arrested but never convicted.

It also stores samples from nearly 40% of the black men in England and Wales compared with 9% of the white men, according to Home Office and Census figures.

But the idea of expanding it any further has come in for a barrage of criticism.

The Human Genetics Commission said creating such a huge database would be too expensive and prone to mistakes being made.

Civil rights group, Liberty, meanwhile, attacked the proposal as "chilling" and "ripe for abuse".

A spokesman for Prime Minister Gordon Brown said DNA had helped tackle crime, but expanding the database would create "huge logistical and bureaucratic issues" and civil liberty concerns.

He said there were no plans for a voluntary national or compulsory UK database.

Home Office minister Tony McNulty said the database had helped police solve as many as 20,000 crimes a year.

In Scotland, DNA samples taken when people are arrested must be destroyed if the individual is not charged or convicted.

But Lord Justice Sedley, who is one of England's most experienced appeal court judges, insisted the present system was "indefensible" and it was time to move forwards.

He cited a catalogue of problems with the present system in England and Wales.

If you happen to have been in the hands of the police then your DNA is on permanent record while many people who are walking the streets and whose DNA would show them guilty of crimes, go free, he said.

He added that ethnic profiling meant disproportionate numbers of ethnic minorities were on the database.

"Going forwards has very serious but manageable implications. It means that everybody, guilty or innocent, should expect their DNA to be on file for the absolutely rigorously restricted purpose of crime detection and prevention," he said.

Keith Jarrett, president of the Black Police Association, backed his call, saying the current system was "untenable".

"You can't have a system where so many black youths who have done nothing wrong are perhaps going to the police station for elimination from a crime and find that their DNA is on the database," he said.

Shadow home secretary David Davis called for a Parliamentary debate and described the system for adding people to the database as arbitrary and erratic.

Nick Clegg, Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, said there was "no earthly reason" why someone who has committed no crime should be on the database - "yet the government is shoving thousands of innocent people's DNA details on to the database every month".

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