The Supreme Court has ruled the indefinite retention of DNA profiles from convicted offenders is not an illegal breach of their privacy.
Britain’s highest court ruled in the case of Northern Irish drink driver Fegus Gaughran, who challenged the police for keeping convicted people’s DNA data indefinitely. The Supreme Court justices ruled that storing his DNA profile is a proportionate interference with his right to privacy under article 8 of the European convention on human rights.
DNA Retention Rights
This judgment establishes a precedent in making an explicit distinction between information that the police may keep on convicted offenders, as opposed to people who are only suspects. Lord Clarke, who delivered the majority decision said: “The potential benefit to the public of retaining the DNA profiles of those who are convicted is considerable and outweighs the interference with the right of the individual. The retention may even benefit the individual by establishing that they did not commit an offence.”
He added: “The United Kingdom has chosen recordable offences as the touchstone. Recordable offences include any offences punishable by imprisonment, together with a limited number of non-imprisonable offences .”
“As the expression suggests, the police are obliged to keep records of convictions and offenders in relation to such offences on the Police national computer. I can see nothing unreasonable in the conclusion that such records ought to include any available DNA profiles.
“It is of course true that the appellant was only fined £50 and disqualified from driving for a year but driving with excess alcohol is a serious offence and can cause significant injury and damage. It may lead to up to six months’ imprisonment.”
DNA Profiling Verdict
The decision regarding DNA profiling was not unanimous with a majority of four to one, as Lord Kerr disagreed with this point of view. In delivering the (unsuccessful) minority verdict, he said: “The stigmatising application of the indefinite retention policy, even to those whose convictions are spent, frustrates the purpose of rehabilitation.”