Test case questions holding of DNA samples for lesser offences


POLICE FORCES across Europe could be forced to destroy millions of DNA samples if a legal challenge by a convicted drink-driver succeeds, it was claimed in a test case being heard yesterday at the High Court in Belfast.

The man’s lawyers argued that the profiles and fingerprints of those found guilty of lesser offences should not be retained. They want a European ruling that found it was unlawful to hold the samples of individuals arrested but later acquitted to be extended to such cases.

Newry-based solicitor Paul Fitzsimons predicted huge consequences if the judicial review challenge succeeds.

He said: “If there is a judgment upholding our client’s position, it could lead to the destruction of vast amounts of police records built up in Northern Ireland, the United Kingdom and throughout Europe.”

Mr Fitzsimons issued legal proceedings on behalf of Fergus Gaughran, who was stopped at a police checkpoint in Camlough, Co Armagh, three years ago. Mr Gaughran failed a breath test, and was convicted and disqualified from driving for a year.

He is challenging the police decision to take and retain fingerprints, a DNA sample and photograph during his detention, claiming this breached his right to privacy.

The European Court of Human Rights has already held that keeping samples from those not ultimately convicted is a violation of their rights. A new criminal justice Bill is expected to include a change in the law to reflect that ruling.

Mr Gaughran’s legal team want that principle extended to cases involving lesser offences such as drink-driving. They argue it is wrong to apply a blanket retention policy, and that the state should discriminate based on the seriousness of the offence.

According to records, there are about 700,000 fingerprints and 123,000 DNA samples on the database in Northern Ireland alone.

The hearing continues.