There is a “clear and compelling case” for the UK to sign up to EU-wide agreements for the rapid and efficient sharing of DNA, fingerprint and vehicle information, the Government has claimed.
The arrangements, known collectively as the Prüm convention, will allow UK law enforcement access to a much larger DNA database, potentially increasing resolution of unsolved crimes and efficiency in international searching.
The UK has until December 31 to decide whether to sign up to Prüm after it opted out in December last year during negotiations on other EU justice measures.
Under the convention, police in the UK would be able to run DNA, fingerprints or vehicle information through other member states’ databases for the purpose of solving crimes.
This will give them access to more than five million fingerprints, DNA profiles and car registration records held across Europe by member states which have already signed up to Prüm.
While such information sharing is already possible through Interpol processes, the Government says Prüm will drastically speed up the justice.
It currently takes an average of 143 days for a DNA match to be returned, compared with just 15 minutes under Prüm.
Matches for fingerprints and vehicle registration information can be returned within 24 hours and 10 seconds respectively.
Speaking in Parliament, Immigration Minister James Brokenshire said the benefits of the convention outweigh any negatives.
“The extensive evidence presented to us, including that provided by our own law enforcement agencies, offers a clear and compelling case for signing up to the Prüm agreements,” he said.
“Giving our police access to the tools they need to rapidly and efficiently identify foreign criminals who have committed serious offences in the UK – and detecting crimes which may otherwise go unsolved – will help to keep the public safe and is clearly in the national interest.”
A pilot simulating Prüm saw 9,931 profiles – both DNA and fingerprint – taken from the scenes of unsolved serious crimes in the UK, and sent to France, Germany, Spain and the Netherlands, resulting in 118 matches.
In contrast, under existing Interpol processes only 69 DNA profiles were sent abroad by UK law enforcement agencies in 2014/15.
Previously analysis carried out by the Home Office (see PP 481) warned that, as some European countries use lower DNA standards than the UK, implementation of Prüm could result in an increase in the number of false matches.
The research concluded that as the UK’s criminal fingerprint and DNA databases are significantly larger than those in other member states, there is a risk there will be a high volume of follow-up work for UK law enforcement workers – resulting in additional staffing and resourcing costs the Home Office cannot afford.
However, a command paper presented to Parliament confirmed that if the UK votes in favour of joining Prüm, safeguards will be in place to protect civil liberties.
For example, the government would legislate to ensure other member states could only search against the UK-held DNA profiles and fingerprints of those actually convicted of a crime.
To address concerns over scientific quality of DNA matches, the Government will legislate to ensure demographic details are only provided if the hit is of a scientific standard equivalent to that required to report a hit to the police in the UK.