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Police plea to keep more suspects’ DNA

UK Herald | June 21, 2005

SENIOR Scottish police officers have asked for new powers to store the DNA and fingerprints of people who have been arrested, but are innocent of any crime, prompting fears that the public's rights are under threat.

Cathy Jamieson, the justice minister, will tomorrow an-nounce a three-month consultation on the idea, which could be added to a forthcoming Police Bill.
The SNP, Tories and civil liberties groups warned the measure would be another step towards a Big Brother society which criminalised the innocent.

It is understood the request has come from the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland, which wants the same power as forces in England and Wales where police have had the right since 2001 to retain prints and DNA from people who have been arrested, even if there is no prosecution or the individual is acquitted. In Scotland, samples must be de-stroyed after a suspect has been acquitted or legal proceedings dropped, unless the material was given voluntarily.

The consultation will ask for views on various issues, including whether Scottish police should be allowed to retain DNA and fingerprints regardless of conviction.

When the law was being changed in England and Wales, the idea of copying it was rejected in Scotland by Jim Wallace, then justice minister, because of doubts over its effectiveness and concerns about eroding civil liberties.

However, the House of Lords has since ruled in a test case that retaining fingerprints and DNA is only a minor and proportionate invasion of privacy given the pressing need to fight crime. The Home Office claimed improved detection rates as a result of material held on file.

Jeremy Purvis, LibDem justice spokesman, said he would want safeguards that material was used only for crimefighting.

John Scott, of the Scottish Human Rights Centre, said any change should be rejected as it was no different from the police holding DNA files on members of the public at random.

Kenny MacAskill, SNP justice spokesman, said he was "extremely sceptical" and warned "we would have to be fully satisfied and assured that this is not part of some 'Big Brother' exercise".

Annabel Goldie, Tory justice spokeswoman, said: "I do have concerns about individual civil liberties."

The Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland said it welcomed the opportunity to debate the proposals.

A spokeswoman for Jack McConnell, the first minister, said: "We are responding to calls from the police to have a look at this as they feel it might help them clear up more crimes. But we are also very aware that there are concerns about civil liberties implications.



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