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PSNI DNA retention lawful
14 May 2015

DNA data obtained by the Police Service Northern Ireland (PSNI) does not breach privacy laws, the Supreme Court has ruled.

In October 2008 Fergus Gaughran was arrested by the force for drink driving. He pleaded guilty and was fined £50 and disqualified for 12 months. The conviction became spent in 2013.

During his arrest the PSNI lawfully obtained his photograph, fingerprints and a DNA sample; the fingerprints are held on a UK-wide database and the photograph on a PSNI database only accessed by authorised personnel.

Under the Police and Criminal Evidence (Northern Ireland) Order 1989, the PSNI may retain fingerprints, photographs, DNA samples and profiles for an indefinite period after they have fulfilled the purpose for which they were taken, but they may only be used for specified policing purposes.

Gaughran argued that the permanent retention of his DNA breached Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights – the right to privacy.

The Supreme Court heard the case in October 2014 and dismissed Gaughran’s appeal by a majority of four to one on Wednesday May 13.

Summing up the verdict, Lord Clarke said the potential benefit to the public of retaining the DNA profiles of those who are convicted is considerable and outweighs the interference with the right of the individual.

“Adopting a blanket measure is legitimate in some circumstances and it was legitimate here,” he said.

“The retention may even benefit the individual by establishing that they did not commit an offence.

“The retention policy is therefore within the UK’s margin of appreciation, and the court has to decide for itself whether the policy is proportionate. The majority concludes that it is and dismisses the appeal.”

Lord Kerr, who disagreed with the court’s decision and would have allowed the appeal, said: “It is important to recognise the objective is not the creation of as large a DNA database as possible, but the actual detection of crime and identification of future offenders.

“There is a striking lack of hard evidence in this case to support the assumption that all persons who commit any recordable offence are potential suspects in any future crime.

Superintendent Tim Mairs said: "The PSNI welcomes the decision of the Supreme Court, which reflects our commitment to deliver an effective policing service focusing on the rights of individuals and keeping people safe."


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