Police to provide greater clarity on DNA retention

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Police have agreed to provide greater public clarity around their retention of DNA and fingerprint data in Northern Ireland.

The Human Rights Commission recently settled its legal action against the PSNI. The force has promised to produce a formal public policy on the holding of biometric information within a year.

Officers can legally keep the data of convicted offenders. The Commission believed finding out if that had been done, and why, was “unnecessarily difficult”.

Chief commissioner Les Allamby said: “The Commission is pleased that in response to this case the PSNI will now develop a clear policy addressing biometric data retention in Northern Ireland.

“It will make clearer to the public why their DNA or fingerprints may be retained, on what basis this may continue, and how to go about seeking its destruction.

“We are encouraging a quick implementation of this settlement to ensure that human rights continues to be a central tenet of how policing is delivered.”

In December 2017, the Commission issued judicial review proceedings against the PSNI on behalf of an anonymous individual.

That person had raised the refusal of the PSNI to erase fingerprints and DNA, which were retained following an arrest but release without charge in 2009.

The material was held because the individual had been previously convicted of an unrelated common assault.

The new public policy will take into account human rights and will provide guidance to the public on how they can find out if their DNA or fingerprints have been retained, why this is so, and to challenge the decision if necessary, the commission added.

Northern Ireland Abortion Reform
Les Allamby, Chief Commissioner of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, acknowledged the importance of retaining DNA or fingerprints to assist with tackling crime (Brian Lawless/PA)

“However, the police must strike a proportionate balance when holding on to this sensitive personal material, having fully considered the individual’s right to respect for private life.”

Temporary Assistant Chief Constable Tim Mairs said the retention of the data had been in accordance with the law.

“However, on consideration, we felt it was appropriate to delete the biometric data.

“The Police Service of Northern Ireland are committed to delivering an effective policing service focusing on the rights of individuals and keeping people safe.”

PSNI has had a procedure in place since 2009 where members of the public can apply to have biometric data deleted and the senior officer said he looked forward to working with the Commission to produce a formal public policy.

He said PSNI was prepared to commence a new regime surrounding biometrics in 2015 and following considerable work with partner agencies had in place a solution to comply with requirements.

He added: “However, the legislation was not commenced by the Justice Minister at this time and so the implementation of the solution was delayed.

“In the absence of the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly, and commencement of the legislation, the PSNI has decided to seek to commence voluntary compliance with the Criminal Justice Act (NI) 2013 on 1st November 2019.

“The implementation of this regime will be complex and will involve co-ordination of work across key local and national stakeholders.

“We are committed to working with the Human Rights Commission to ensure we operate to the highest of standards in a manner that safeguards human rights, but also allows for law enforcement agencies to balance this with the detection and prevention of crime.”

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