Bill published to set up DNA database to fight crime

 

THE MINISTER for Justice yesterday published a Bill allowing for the establishment of a national DNA database. It provides for taking samples that can be used in criminal trials.

When the Bill becomes law everyone who is arrested will be required to give a DNA sample, from which a DNA profile will be taken which can be matched with DNA samples taken from crime scenes. The analysis of this material may also link the person to other offences where he was previously involved, but no link had previously come to light.

A separate part of the database, to be maintained with a separate index, will be available to help trace and identify missing or unknown persons.

The database will be established and operated by the Forensic Science Laboratory, which will be renamed and carry the Irish initials EFÉ. It will carry out the DNA analysis and communicate the results to the Garda.

The legislation follows a report from the Law Reform Commission in 2005 on the creation and maintenance of a DNA database, after a Government request in 2004.

Announcing the Bill’s publication, Dermot Ahern said: “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. 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 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.”

The LRC also considered privacy issues relating to the retention of DNA samples. Since the publication of its report the European Court of Human Rights has ruled that the indefinite retention of DNA samples, profiles and fingerprints taken from persons who are not charged or are acquitted was an infringement of the ECHR right to privacy.

The court distinguished between samples and profiles, noting that samples could provide much more information than was captured by the DNA profile. The judgment therefore supported shorter retention periods for samples as opposed to profiles, and also supported special provision being made for vulnerable groups, particularly children.

The Bill provides that only those convicted of serious offences will have their materials held indefinitely. Those not charged or who are acquitted will have their materials removed either on application or, where no application is made, after 10 years in the case of a profile (five years for children) and three in the case of a sample.

An oversight committee, headed by a senior judge, will carry out assessments and evaluate the laboratory’s systems and procedures. The committee’s reports will be published.

The Bill also makes provision for co-operation with EU member states in sharing DNA database information. Procedures for such co-operation were outlined in a 2008 EU Council decision on combating crime and terrorism.

Fine Gael justice spokesman Charlie Flanagan welcomed the Bill but expressed his disappointment that it took over five years to introduce it.

The Irish Council for Civil Liberties said that it will review the new Bill to establish if it strikes the right balance between catching criminals and protecting privacy.


JUSTICE BILLS: PUBLIC ORDER AND INSANITY


The Minister for Justice, Dermot Ahern, presented Bills relating to public order and insanity at yesterday’s Cabinet meeting, along with the Bill establishing a new DNA database, a Government spokesman said.

The Criminal Justice Public Order Bill, which relates to begging, will address the High Court ruling that section three of the Vagrancy (Ireland) Act 1847 is unconstitutional.

The Criminal Law (Insanity) Act 2006 (Amendment) Bill will provide for statutory rules governing the recall of persons released by the Criminal Law (Mental Health) Tribunal. - Mary Minihan