Bill provides for DNA database

 

Anybody arrested in relation to a serious offence will have DNA samples taken and placed in a database under the provisions of a new Bill published today.

Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern published the Criminal Justice (Forensic Evidence and DNA Database System) Bill 2010 that will see the establishment, for the first time, of a national DNA database.

Civil rights campaigners said they would examine the proposed law to establish if it strikes the right balance “between catching criminals and protecting private life”.

Mr Ahern said the establishment of a database represented “a major step forward in the fight against serious crime”.

He said it would give gardaí “access to intelligence on a scale and of a quality that has never before been available in this country”.

He said the Bill will also enable the taking of samples that can be used as evidence in a criminal trial. If the Bill becomes law, everyone who is arrested for a “serious offence” can be required to give a sample.

Mr Ahern said a profile generated from that sample will be placed on the new database, along with samples collected at crime scenes. A separate part of the database will be available to help trace and identify missing persons.

“Everyone serving a sentence for a serious offence when this new law comes into force will be required to give a sample for the database,” Mr Ahern said.

“This will include people in prison and anyone on temporary release or on suspended sentences, as well as anyone on the sex offenders’ register.

“The combination of these two major sources of samples (suspects and convicted persons) will ensure that, within a short time, a significant proportion of the criminal community will have their samples on the database. It is my hope that this fact would, of itself, act as a deterrent for some.”

Mr Ahern said that throughout the drafting process, consideration was given to issues such as rights to privacy and "steps have been taken" to ensure that sampling will be restricted to serious offences.

“Account has been taken of the position of vulnerable people (including children), and restrictions have been placed on the time periods for which samples and profiles can be retained on the system,” he said.

Only those convicted of serious offences will have their DNA held indefinitely. Everyone else who gives a sample but who is not charged or aquitted of an offence will have their details removed “either on application or, where no application is made, after the expiry of a fixed default period”.

The database will be operated by the Forensic Science Laboratory, which will be renamed Forensic Science Ireland. It will carry out the analysis on samples and send the results to An Garda Síochána.

“I am keen to ensure the integrity of the database and have therefore provided that an oversight committee, to be headed by a senior judge, will carry out assessments and will evaluate the laboratory's systems and procedures. Its reports will be published,” the Minister said.

He said he hoped the legislation would pass in the coming months and, “in view of its complexity and importance, sufficient time will be allowed for a full debate on its content”.

The Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) said it would review the Bill to establish “if it now strikes the right balance between catching criminals and protecting private life”.

ICCL director Mark Kelly said: “In December 2008, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties requested the Attorney General to review the Government's proposed DNA database legislation in the light of an important decision by the European Court of Human Rights (S. and Marper v the United Kingdom).”

He said Mr Ahern had indicated in the Dáil last December that this had been done, and accepted that there are significant issues in privacy and human rights in regard to the DNA database.

“There is an entirely legitimate public interest in the creation of a DNA database that makes it easier to catch criminals; however, the sampling, retention and sharing of DNA requires special safeguards to ensure that the private lives of innocent people are protected,” Mr Kelly said.

Fine Gael's justice spokesman Charlie Flanagan said he "broadly welcomed" the introduction of a DNA database.

“DNA databases have proved to be invaluable investigative tools, across numerous jurisdictions, in the solving of crimes and securing convictions," Mr Flanagan said.

"Five years ago the Law Reform Commission sent a draft bill to Government that would have facilitated the establishment of a much needed DNA database. It reflects poorly on the Government that it took until 2010 for them to take action."