PSNI criticised over DNA policy


The PSNI has been accused of failing to engage with the Northern Ireland Policing Board on their controversial policy of retaining DNA of innocent people.

The practice of holding on to DNA samples, profiles and fingerprints of individuals who have been arrested but not convicted of an offence breaches the European Convention on Human Rights. 

The policy, which is also followed by forces in England and Wales, is allowed under UK law. 

The Scottish approach, which sees samples destroyed if a person is acquitted or not charged - unless it relates to a serious sexual of violent assault, has been backed by the European Court of Human Rights. 

Twelve months ago the Policing Board asked the PSNI, which could follow the Scottish model, to review its position on the matter, particularly in regard to young people, and report back to them in three months. 

The board’s annual Human Rights Report, which was published today, expressed disappointment that the police force had failed to do so. 

The report, produced by the board’s human rights advisor Alyson Kilpatrick, noted that the issue is being examined by the Department of Justice but stressed that the force had the ability to make its own decision. 

“The PSNI does not appear to have had regard to its responsibility to consider the exercise of its powers and the exercise of its discretion or, if it has given the issue due consideration, it has failed to explain that consideration to the Policing Board,” said Ms Kilpatrick. 

Instead of reporting back to the board, the PSNI issued them the following statement: “PSNI continues to work with colleagues in Great Britain and Government to ensure that our policy on DNA material, profiles and fingerprints meets ECHR standards and complies with UK legislation. This is a current and ongoing issue for all United Kingdom police services.” 

The sixth annual human rights report focused on compliance with the European convention across the whole spectrum of policing functions. It found that there had been a 14 per cent increase in complaints about the PSNI to the Police Ombudsman Al Hutchinson’s office. But Ms Kilpatrick stressed that rise was not necessarily a bad thing as it could merely reflect that more people were aware of the ombudsman’s role and were willing to engage with his office. 

Ms Kilpatrick praised the police’s response to the serious riots that broke out at the height of the marching season in Belfast. “The operation adhered not only to policy and guidance but complied with the requirements of the Human Rights Act 1998 in every material respect,” she said. 

“That the PSNI managed to do so in the most difficult of circumstances when faced with the threat of serious violence is testament to its officers’ commitment to human rights standards.”