Select Committee on Science and Technology Seventh Report

4 National Databases

National DNA Database


61. The technology underlying DNA profiling (also known as DNA fingerprinting) was developed as a result of a serendipitous discovery by Professor Sir Alec Jeffreys and colleagues in the 1980s in the course of research into DNA variation and the evolution of families of genes.[128] The potential of the technology was soon realised: DNA was sufficiently stable and resilient to be extracted from samples of body fluids; the same DNA profile was found in all cells of an individual; and DNA profiles could be obtained that were effectively unique to an individual. The first use of DNA profiling for crime detection was in Leicestershire in 1986 during a rape and murder investigation that subsequently became known as the "Pitchfork Case" after the man eventually identified as the perpetrator, Colin Pitchfork. DNA evidence went on to be successfully used on a case-by-case basis in a number of investigations but the power of the technique was limited by the absence of a permanent collection of reference profiles to which samples obtained at the crime scene could be compared. The Home Affairs Select Committee was amongst those arguing, as early as 1989, for a DNA database analogous to the fingerprint database to be established, "Once a method of encoding DNA profiles has been established [and] provided that the expensive computer equipment [is] available".[129]

62. The National DNA Database of England and Wales was established in April 1995 under the aegis of the FSS. It represented the first national DNA intelligence database and remains the world's largest. The DNA Expansion Programme launched in 2000 was hailed by the Prime Minister as "an acceleration in the high-tech drive against crime" that would lead, by 2004, to a database of "3 million suspect samples—virtually the entire criminally active population".[130] In fact, the latest figures available show that the NDNAD now contains more than 2.7 million profiles and 243,627 crime scene stains.[131] Since its establishment in 1995, there have been 584,539 suspect to scene matches and 38,417 scene to scene matches.[132] In a typical month, matches are found linking suspects to 15 murders, 45 rapes and other sexual offences and 2,500 motor vehicle, property and drug crimes.[133] There is now a one in two chance that a suspect will be identified for an offence when a profile from DNA at a crime scene is added to the database.[134] Furthermore, the availability of a DNA profile improves the chances of a crime being solved. This is reflected in the fact that, for crimes where a DNA profile has been obtained, the rate of detection increases to 43% from the average detection rate of 24%. However, crime scene examination takes place following only 17% of all recorded crimes, and only 5% of crime scene examinations lead to DNA profiles being successfully loaded onto the database. This means that searchable DNA profiles are currently obtained from less than 1% of all recorded crimes.[135]

Figure 4

Source: NDNAD Annual Report 2003-04 and FSS


63. There are, broadly speaking, three categories of samples taken for the purposes of obtaining DNA profiles to be loaded onto the database. The first category refers to samples taken from the crime scene—these are collected when police or SOCOs identify potential biological material that could be relevant to an investigation. Samples in the second category, usually called criminal justice samples, are taken from known individuals who are suspected of involvement in crime. The final category comprises samples taken from volunteers, usually obtained by police in the process of mass screening during a criminal investigation. DNA samples from individuals are generally taken as mouth swabs or pulled hairs. If the DNA profile obtained from crime scene sample matches a DNA profile on the database, this is known as an "intelligence match". Until recently, the intelligence match was not sufficient for an offender to be charged, and is still not admissible as evidence for a prosecution. Instead, a second sample is taken from the suspect and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) can only proceed with the prosecution if the DNA profile obtained from this also matches. This second match is often called the "evidential match".

Criminal justice samples

64. The legislative framework for the taking and retention of samples for DNA profiling was provided originally by the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE), which set out the circumstances under which suspect samples, known as "evidential samples", could be taken for use in the investigation of an offence. PACE differentiated between intimate and non-intimate samples and permitted intimate samples to be taken only in connection with serious arrestable offences. Under PACE, samples obtained for DNA analysis were classified as intimate samples. The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 (CJPOA) provided the legal framework for the establishment of the NDNAD and reclassified saliva, swabs from the mouth, and hair with roots as non-intimate samples. Under CJPOA, non-intimate samples were allowed to be taken without consent from individuals charged with a recordable offence (or individuals who had been informed that they would be reported for such an offence).[136] In addition, CJPOA permitted DNA profiles from such samples to be compared with other recorded profiles in a so-called speculative search, with the proviso that the person must have been informed about why the sample was being taken, and about the fact that it could be used for speculative searching.

65. Under CJPOA, DNA samples and the profiles obtained from them could not be retained if the individual from whom they were derived was acquitted or not prosecuted. However, the 2000 HMIC thematic inspection report, Under the Microscope, noted that in the order of 50,000 samples and profiles had been improperly retained on the database.[137] In due course, the use of matches between newly taken samples and profiles improperly retained on the database for the purposes of intelligence was challenged in the courts. In the case of R v B the judge refused to admit the DNA evidence, and in the case of R v Weir the Court of Appeal quashed the conviction for murder, on the grounds that the DNA evidence (an intelligence match which led to the identification of the offender) should not have been admitted.[138] The House of Lords later ruled that it should be left to the discretion of the judge to decide whether to admit such evidence.[139] The Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001 (CJPA) addressed this problem by allowing the retention of samples and profiles from individuals who had not been prosecuted, or who had been acquitted, with retrospective effect to resolve the status of the samples that were then being improperly held on the database.

66. The powers awarded to police under PACE were further expanded by the Criminal Justice Act 2003, which allows DNA samples to be taken from any individual arrested for a recordable offence and detained in a police station. These samples may be retained irrespective of whether the person is cleared of the offence, or not prosecuted, providing that they are used for the purposes of prevention and detection of crime; the investigation of an offence; or the conduct of a prosecution.[140]

67. The extension of police powers as described above has not been without controversy. The provisions under PACE relating to the retention of suspects who are not subsequently prosecuted or who are acquitted have been the subject of legal challenge. In the case of R v Chief Constable of South Yorkshire ex parte S and Marper, where an appeal was brought on the basis of the fact that retention of DNA samples under these circumstances was a breach of Articles 8 and 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights, the Court of Appeal ruled that the breach of Article 8 was proportionate and justifiable and found no breach of Article 14.[141] This decision was subsequently upheld by the House of Lords.[142]

68. During this inquiry we also heard reservations about the practice of retaining DNA profiles of suspects who are never charged with an offence, or found not guilty. Professor Sir Alec Jeffreys told us that he was "totally opposed to the extension of the database" in this way, regarding as "highly discriminatory" the fact that "you will be sampling excessively within ethnic communities, for example".[143] GeneWatch UK were similarly critical of the retention of DNA profiles from this group of individuals, telling us: "we are concerned that the legislative changes to date have been introduced too rapidly and in the absence of any meaningful public debate […] There are no data available to evaluate whether crime detection will be improved by including DNA profiles from people who are arrested and not charged, or by continuing to hold data on people whose charges are later dropped or are found innocent".[144] GeneWatch called on the Home Office to bring the NDNAD policy closer into line with that used on the Police National Computer (PNC): "PNC records for serious violent and sexual offences are kept indefinitely, but most other records are eventually removed. On the PNC, records from people who have been acquitted may be retained only in some specific circumstances (mainly related to sexual offences) and for fixed time periods".[145]

69. The Home Office was vigorous in its defence of the practice of retaining the DNA profiles of suspects who are not ultimately convicted, citing the fact that from the approximately 175,000 DNA profiles that would have been removed without this provision, an estimated 7,005 profiles of individuals have been linked with crime scene stains involving 8,498 offences. These offences included 68 murders, 38 attempted murders, 116 rapes, 52 sexual offences, 78 aggravated burglaries and 80 offences for the supply of controlled drugs.[146] However, this argument could equally be used to justify the sampling of the entire population. Professor Sir Alec Jeffreys has indeed advocated such an approach on the grounds that this would be less discriminatory than current practice. This suggestion was dismissed by the Minister: "Because I think it is about being proportionate", although she was keen to point out that she personally "would not mind" having her profile stored on the database.[147] The arguments for the retention of DNA profiles of suspects who are not ultimately convicted in the interests of fighting crime need to be balanced against any potential infringement of civil liberties arising from this policy.

70. Whilst this policy of retaining DNA profiles may have its critics, the retention of DNA samples represents an even bigger bone of contention. Samples are retained (linked to the record on the NDNAD via a barcode reference) by the laboratory which originally analysed them, although they remain police property. They are retained, in the first instance, to enable the profile to be checked and, in the second instance, in case a decision is taken to change the testing platform used for the database (see paragraph 86). The data that is entered into the NDNAD only carries information about a person's identity and, to a small extent, ethnic origin. It does not provide information about a person's medical history or physical characteristics. On the other hand, the sample from which the DNA profile on the database is derived does have the potential to reveal highly significant amounts of sensitive and personal information. In the words of Sir Alec, "If you have a DNA profile it is just a bunch of numbers on the computer and it really does not matter, but if you have the original DNA sample then you have the potential to extract absolutely every scrap of genetic information of that individual".[148]

71. GeneWatch argues that destroying samples once the initial checks have been carried out would not compromise current or future investigations since "All the information that is needed is stored in the DNA profile held on the computer database" and "Physical samples do not need to be retained to prevent errors because a fresh sample must be taken anyway before DNA evidence can be used in court".[149] GeneWatch has therefore called for "an independent review of whose DNA profiles should be collected and retained on the NDNAD", with "Research on the use of the NDNAD database, its effectiveness and the justification for including innocent people" conducted "to inform the debate".[150] DNA evidence now represents a vital instrument for facilitating investigations and securing convictions. We believe that the recent expansion of the database would make a review of the impact of the NDNAD on the detection and deterrence of crime timely.

72. Professor Sir Alec Jeffreys has also called for "very strict legislation that would limit the police in what they could do with those samples that had been retained".[151] Current legislation requires that samples may only be used for purposes related to prevention and detection of crime, investigation of offences or conduct of a prosecution.[152] As demonstrated by the fact that DNA samples taken for the purposes of obtaining DNA profiles have already been the subject of research projects (see paragraph 81), this definition is open to interpretation. Independent research should be undertaken to assess the public attitude towards retention of DNA samples (both from convicted criminals and others), and the evidence of benefits associated with this practice.

Voluntary elimination samples

73. A small proportion of DNA samples taken by the police are voluntary elimination samples. These are usually taken from known individuals who need to be eliminated as possible sources of crime scene samples, or in the course of mass screenings of a particular subgroup of the population from which the suspect is thought to come. It is noteworthy that SOCOs may not request samples from the victims of crime in all cases, thus a proportion of crime scene profiles on the database may actually be derived from victims, rather than perpetrators, of crime.

74. Approximately 75,000 police personnel have also submitted samples and the profiles derived from these are stored on the Police Elimination Database to facilitate the identification of instances of contamination of evidence.[153] Although the provision of samples was voluntary for existing staff, it has been made a condition of employment for staff who have joined the police since the Police Elimination Database was founded in 2000.[154] The Police Elimination Database is anonymised and, since it is not part of the main NDNAD, is not subjected to speculative searches. Suppliers to the NDNAD also maintain Staff Elimination Databases for analogous reasons.

75. The Criminal Justice and Police Act (Commencement No. 8) Order 2002 that came into force on 1 January 2003 amended the existing legislation to allow samples given voluntarily for the purposes of elimination to be retained indefinitely and used for speculative searches, providing written consent is obtained from the individual concerned. Importantly, once consent has been given it cannot be withdrawn. The NDNAD Annual Report 2003-04 explains that "The wider use now permitted will avoid the need for some individuals to be asked for further samples if they fall in the target population of other intelligence-led screens".[155] The latter explanation does not address the reasons why an individual should be prevented from withdrawing consent at a later date, as is standard practice for the donation of tissue samples for the purposes of medical research. We do not understand why consent should be irrevocable for individuals who are giving DNA samples on a voluntary basis.



76. When the NDNAD was first established, oversight and operation of the database was shared by ACPO and the FSS as joint chairs of the User Board. The User Board later became the National DNA Database Board, which had a more strategic role and was chaired by the ACPO portfolio holder for forensic science. The Board also included representatives from the police forces in England and Wales, the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland and the Home Office. The FSS was represented as both supplier and custodian of the database. With the emergence of a competitive market in forensic services, other organisations began to seek recognition as approved suppliers of DNA profiles. In 1997, therefore, the Chief Scientist of the FSS was allocated the role of custodian of the database and "Chinese walls" were constructed between the custodian and the FSS as a supplier, in order to prevent conflict of interests and safeguard the confidentiality of any sensitive information provided by other suppliers to the custodian. Dr Bob Bramley, the first and current custodian of the database, described his responsibilities as:

In order to be recognised as an approved supplier, companies have to complete proficiency tests set by the custodian, be accredited by the UK Accreditation Service for their DNA work, and prove that they have adopted the internationally recognised quality assurance procedures for DNA analysis. All suppliers to the NDNAD are subject to various forms of on-going monitoring, such as blind and declared proficiency tests provided by the custodian. The custodian also chairs a Suppliers Group that could provide advice to the Board on scientific and technical standards and developments.[157]

Problems with the custodianship arrangements

77. A number of people have expressed unease about the custodianship arrangements for the NDNAD. In its 2001 Report, Human Genetic Databases: challenges and opportunities, the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee noted the "clear potential for conflicts of interest" in the current arrangements and recommended "that the Government should establish an independent body, including lay membership, to oversee the workings of the National DNA Database, to put beyond doubt that individuals' data are being properly used and protected".[158] In addition, the 2002 Human Genetics Commission (HGC) report, Inside Information: balancing interests in the use of personal genetic data, stated that "at the very least, the Home Office and ACPO should establish an independent body, which would include lay membership, to have oversight over the work of the National DNA Database custodian and the profile suppliers".[159] The HGC further recommended that a separate national ethical committee be set up to approve all research projects involving the use of DNA samples. The latter point is discussed in paragraph 81. In response to these recommendations, the NDNAD Board invited the HGC to nominate one of its Commissioners to sit on the Board "to advise on ethical issues and matters of wider public interest relating to the management and operation of the Database and the use of the DNA samples and data for research purposes".[160] Inviting a member of the Human Genetics Commission to sit on the NDNAD Board does not substitute for instigating proper arrangements for ethical and lay input. In failing to respond more positively to the calls for independent oversight of the database, the Home Office gave the impression that it was not a high priority.

78. Not surprisingly, doubts have remained over whether the custodianship arrangements for the database are sufficiently independent and accountable. The memoranda submitted by LGC and Forensic Alliance to this inquiry both noted the need to make the custodian function fully independent of the FSS.[161] Moreover, the McFarland Review acknowledged the concerns about the current arrangements and recommended that the NDNAD custodianship be removed from the FSS.[162] The Home Office has accepted this recommendation and work is now underway to revise the custodianship of the NDNAD. These changes are discussed in paragraph 80.

79. The police have also commented on the need to ensure that changes to the custodianship of the database do not in any way restrict their ability to access data. ACPO told us: "Currently, there are signs that the FSS, and other providers, see the holding of such data [as is held in NDNAD] as a means of generating business opportunities. ACPO will resist this. We consider that the bulk of data derived from forensic testing on behalf of agencies in the Criminal Justice System should be regarded as public property, under the control of the public authorities. We cannot support a situation in which the police service has to pay for access to its own data".[163] The Metropolitan Police Service similarly remarked that "it is critical to the future development of forensic science that this data is publicly held and securely available to all law enforcement agencies".[164]

Future custodianship arrangements

80. Dr Bramley, custodian of the NDNAD, explained that "The strategic goal, within 3 to 7 years, […] is for independent governance and oversight of the National DNA Database wholly within the public sector, with Database operations and development run under competitive contract(s) and fully connected to the National Intelligence System".[165] In the short term, Board meetings will continue to be chaired by the ACPO portfolio holder for forensic science; Board members will comprise representatives from the Home Office, ACPO and the Association of Police Authorities; and the lay representative nominated by the HGC and the custodian will be permanent invitees. In the long term, "it is envisaged that there will be physical separation of the National DNA Database from FSS premises and the FSS IT network, and co-location of the Home Office based Custodian group with the facilities for the provision of database operational services in new accommodation in the Birmingham area".[166] We welcome the fact that the Home Office is to revise the custodianship arrangements for the NDNAD, and in particular the decision to remove the custodianship function from the FSS. However, we have not heard any firm commitment by the Home Office to establish an independent body with full ethical and lay input to oversee the workings of the database, in accordance with the recommendations of the Human Genetics Commission and others. Failure to do this at this juncture would be a wasted opportunity.


81. GeneWatch UK told us of its concern that "Research using the NDNAD can currently be conducted with the approval of the NDNAD Board, without any ethical oversight".[167] In oral evidence to the Committee, Mr Wilson from the Home Office responded to this criticism: "The Human Genetics Commission are represented on the National DNA [Database] Board; they ensure that nothing is done as far as the database and the retained samples are concerned that would compromise ethical standards in research; they are our conscience".[168] Dr Fereday, DNA Expansion Programme Manager at the Home Office, also commented that the Human Genetics Commission had visited the database and "were satisfied with the procedures".[169] In addition, she told us that "a member of the Commission routinely attends and is able to comment and so far there have been no negative comments".[170] However, the HGC told us in written evidence that it stood by its recommendations in Inside Information concerning the need for an independent body to oversee the work of the NDNAD custodian.[171] Moreover, the HGC stated: "Currently, there is no ethics structure that properly assesses the research proposals which are submitted to the National DNA Database Board. The presence of an HGC member on the Board does not provide for adequate consideration on the ethical issues involved in research proposals".[172] This clearly contradicts the impression given to us by the Home Office. We regret the Home Office's misleading representation of the position of the Human Genetics Commission and its failure to take on board the Commission's criticisms.Table 1: Research requests to the NDNAD custodian
From Received Agreed
External research request from universities etc. 61
Police operational requests relating to specific investigations, including familial searching 42
Requests to assist forensic providers for R&D papers, for future use in cases not specific investigations 116
Database improvements 11

Source: Home Office[173]

82. The HGC also raises the fact that, although few external applications have been submitted to the Board that would require the use of NDNAD samples, "requests to carry out internal development, for example to develop familial testing, are more frequent".[174] In the past, research of this kind could be undertaken without ethical review and, whilst these proposals are now discussed by the board, "they are discussed in the absence of formal ethical oversight".[175] According to GeneWatch, since 1995 the FSS has submitted five research proposals to the Board, two of which—both relating to identification of ethnic and familial traits—have been granted.[176] At no stage is there a requirement for consent to be given by the individual from whom the sample was taken. We understand that the NDNAD Board is now discussing with the Central Office for Research Ethics Committees the setting up of a protocol to obtain independent ethical opinion on future research and policy proposals.[177] It is extremely regrettable that for most of time that the NDNAD has been in existence there has been no formal ethical review of applications to use the database and the associated samples for research purposes. The recent initiation of negotiations with the Central Office for Research Ethics Committees is too little too late.


Familial testing

83. Familial searching, whereby a list is assembled of possible relatives of the owner of a particular DNA sample from the database, is now being promoted by the FSS to police forces to help identify those responsible for serious crime through their relatives.[178] The technique works by identifying an individual whose profile on the database shows a statistically significant similarity to a profile from a crime scene sample, but whose profile does not exactly match the crime scene profile and is therefore not the offender. There is a greatly increased probability of similarity between DNA profiles of individuals with a direct genetic relationship. The technique exploits this, relying on the fact that there is a high probability that a full match to the crime scene profile lies within the direct genetic relatives of the individual whose DNA profile on the database gave a partial match. In April 2004 Craig Harman became the first person to be convicted using evidence based on a link between DNA retrieved at the crime scene and the DNA profile of a relative of the accused. Employing familial searching for solving crimes can involve taking DNA from multiple relatives of the person on the database (ten or more would not be uncommon).

84. Familial searching carries with it ethical and human rights implications. Professor Sir Alec Jeffreys told us in oral evidence: "You are now using the database in addition for implicating relatives and I think that does raise some civil liberties issues".[179] The recent report on the social, ethical and policy implications of the NDNAD, Genetic Information & Crime Investigation, highlights a number of potential difficulties with the technique:

"There are several fundamental problems. A genetic link between individuals might be previously unknown by one or both parties and police investigations may make such information known to them for the first time (and, as a by product, may reveal the absence of genetic links which participants assumed to have existed—estimates of the non-paternity rate in the UK vary between 5 and 20%). There is also the question of whether the use of an individual's databased DNA in this way violates existing promises of privacy and confidentiality made when genetic material was originally collected. Furthermore, the implicit assumptions made about criminality and relatedness may also be problematic".[180]

We are concerned that the introduction of familial searching has occurred in the absence of any Parliamentary debate about the merits of the approach and its ethical implications.

Extraction of other information

85. The DNA profiles stored on the database are made up of a series of markers that correspond to non-coding regions of the genome. It is therefore commonly stated that no information about the physical characteristics or the health of the individual can be gleaned from the DNA profile. There is no indication that the ability to derive significant information about a person's health or physical appearance from the DNA profiles currently used is imminent or even possible. Nevertheless, there are a few exceptions. Genetic Information & Crime Investigation noted the existence of "evidence that at least one currently used marker can be linked to a particular medical condition (type 1 diabetes)".[181] The authors point out that "If any of the loci [markers] currently used in forensic DNA profiling become established reference points for the diagnosis of further medical traits in the future, then it may be necessary for all stakeholders in the NDNAD to revisit their understandings of the adequacy of current arrangements for ensuring informational privacy".[182] In addition, the FSS already offers an ethnic inference service that can calculate the likelihood of an individual being of a particular race on the basis of the prevalence of certain genetic markers in different ethnic groups. Furthermore, the Police Science and Technology Strategy identifies "Use of DNA to predict physical characteristics" as a project required to meet more than one priority capability (although there is no suggestion that such information could be acquired from the DNA profile).[183] Any future extension to the applications for which the data in the NDNAD can be used must be subject to public scrutiny.


86. The police currently record 10 DNA markers per individual in order to generate a profile for the NDNAD. Professor Sir Alec Jeffreys asserted that this was insufficient, arguing that the number of markers collected should be raised to 15 or 16: "If you look, for example, at the Tsunami disaster, the identification there is done on the sixteen marker system and I would argue that the UK should be running at about that sort of number".[184] Sir Alec explained his reasoning as follows:

"10 markers give a chance of a match between two unrelated people of, on average, 1 in 10,000,000,000,000. While this is extremely low, the current size of the DNA database coupled with very large numbers of speculative searches means that even extremely rare chance matches will arise. This possibility is admitted in the DNA database annual report […] The chance of a fluke match will be increased in those people who carry common markers, to whom the 1 in 10,000,000,000,000 figure does not apply. It will also be increased substantially in close relatives; for example, siblings will have a roughly 1 in 250,000 chance of matching over 10 markers".[185]

The additional six markers (to the 10 already used) would, according to Sir Alec, "guarantee, with better than 99.9% certainty, that any false match would be detected in a given case".[186]

87. Professor Jeffreys told us in oral evidence that there would not be significant cost implications associated with collecting sixteen markers for each profile: "There are kits out there that will enable you to do a sixteen marker test with no extra time or very little cost implication compared to the ten marker test at the moment".[187] On the other hand, he pointed out that changing the technology platform of the NDNAD would be less than straightforward: "The major problem is what we are going to do with the two and a half million databases that are primarily ten marker. Do we go back and re-test everybody and get them up to sixteen markers?".[188]

88. It has been argued that, since in the UK a conviction could not be based on DNA evidence alone, the NDNAD should be seen primarily as a screening tool. Dr Fereday used this latter point as justification for not increasing the number of markers utilised.[189] Dr Fereday's view neglects to take into account the fact that the same ten markers are employed for the "evidential match". Nimesh Jani, Policy Advisor at the CPS, also told us that, as a prosecutor, he would like to be able to work with DNA profiles that were essentially unique, which would argue for increasing the discriminatory power of a DNA match.[190] Sir Alec suggested that "it would be reasonable for the database to remain with 10 markers and for the additional 6 markers to be used, following the identification of a suspect, to verify or disprove the authenticity of the match".[191] This would enable the discriminatory power of the DNA analysis to be improved without necessitating a logistically difficult and expensive change to the database technology platform. We recognise that adventitious matches are extremely unlikely under the current regime. Nevertheless, we find Professor Sir Alec Jeffreys' warning that the "consequences of even one false match leading to a conviction that was subsequently overturned could be severe for the DNA database and its public acceptability" sufficiently persuasive to merit a thorough investigation of the benefits and risks of staying with the current 10 marker system and moving to, for argument's sake, a 16 marker system. We therefore recommend that the Government commission a cost-benefit analysis for this move.

89. We also note that the new CPS guidance on DNA charging states that a suspect may now be charged on the basis of a DNA intelligence match, derived from the scene of the crime, and a sample of DNA kept on the NDNAD, providing there is some further supporting evidence.[192] Moreover, whereas the previous ACPO guidance stated that where a DNA match was based on SGM to SGM profiles (i.e. on six markers only) it should be upgraded before charging, this may no longer be deemed necessary depending on the strength of other supporting evidence and what issues are raised by the defence.[193] We are concerned that such decisions may be being taken without proper scrutiny or adequate scientific input. Judge Thorpe, Resident Judge at Chichester Crown Court, additionally drew our attention to the need to review old cases where DNA profiles had been collected using methods with less discriminatory power. He told us that "Frankly, people on the FSS say, 'perhaps we ought to go and look at it but nobody has asked me and nobody is paying'. It is a matter of considerable concern".[194] We agree, not least in light of the alarming statistic in the NDNAD Annual Report 2003-04 that around 26% of matches between SGM criminal justice sample profiles and crime scene profiles were re-categorised as adventitious matches when the criminal justice sample was upgraded from SGM to SGM Plus.[195] The Government should continue to make funding available to enable the upgrading of SGM profiles currently stored in the NDNAD to SGM Plus profiles. We further recommend that cases where DNA evidence has been used to convict someone who continues to protest their innocence should be kept live so that if another profile is added to the NDNAD that matches that used in the conviction of the individual, it will be spotted and acted upon. We understand that the FSS will alert the police to instances where a newly added profile matches a profile that has already been used for a conviction. It is essential that the police then take appropriate action.

Other national databases

90. The police, understandably, are seeking to maximise the value of the data that they already hold. One means of doing this is through better use of, and greater connectivity between, the existing police databases. The National Intelligence Model is encouraging integration of intelligence sources, and the 2004 Bichard report into child protection, record keeping and information sharing in Humberside Police and Cambridgeshire Constabulary highlighted the need for better police intelligence handling.[196] Nevertheless, we heard in this inquiry that the police and Home Office were not giving the necessary attention to the custodianship arrangements for some of the other national forensic databases. Tom Palmer from Forensic Alliance, for instance, informed us of problems with access to the firearms database.[197] Despite this, the Home Office told us that it had "no immediate plans to alter the existing arrangements" for the firearms database.[198] Other key national databases include those that store information about footprints and drug analysis data. Forensic Alliance also highlighted the importance of sharing data between suppliers who are working on the same case, calling for guidelines to be drawn up "to ensure that as the market becomes more complex, common cause always prevails".[199] The police and the Home Office must ensure that they give adequate attention to the access and custodianship arrangements of other national forensic databases and put in place mechanisms for data sharing between suppliers where required.

91. At the international level, there are also arguments for better harmonisation of national DNA databases to facilitate the fight against crime. The European Network of Forensic Science Institutes has been co-ordinating efforts to develop European DNA databases and there is a European Council Resolution that sets out the arrangements for the exchange of DNA profiles between countries in Europe in support of criminal investigations.[200] The Interpol DNA Gateway also provides for the transfer of DNA profile information between two or more countries and for access to a limited international database containing DNA profiles that conform to Interpol standards.[201] James Watson, co-discoverer of the structure of DNA, has additionally called for a global database to aid the fight against crime and terrorism.[202] Increasing the connectivity of different databases, whether at the national or international level, may have significant ethical implications. The Government must take this into account when considering the linking or cross-referencing of forensic databases.

128   A.J. Jeffreys, V. Wilson, S.L. Thein, Hypervariable minisatellite regions in human DNA, Nature, 314(6006): 67-73, 1985 Back

129   Home Affairs Committee, Session 1998-99, The Forensic Science Service, HC 26-I Back

130   HO Announcement 269/2000 Back

131   Hitting the mark, Jane's Police Review, 18 February 2005 Back

132   Hitting the mark, Jane's Police Review, 18 February 2005 Back

133   Forensic Science Service factsheet on the National DNA Database, July 2004  Back

134   Forensic Science Service, The National DNA Database Annual Report 2003-04, 2004 Back

135   As above. Back

136   Recordable offences are generally those offences that could lead to a custodial sentence and represent the majority of crimes investigated by the police. Back

137   Home Office, Under the Microscope, Her Majesty's Inspector David Blakey, July 2000 Back

138   R v Weir [2000] EWCA Crim 43 (26 May 2000): See also Forensic Science Service, The National DNA Database Annual Report 2003-04, 2004 Back

139   Forensic Science Service, The National DNA Database Annual Report 2003-04, 2004 Back

140   Forensic Science Service, The National DNA Database Annual Report 2003-04, 2004 Back

141   R (S) v Chief Constable of the South Yorkshire Police, R (Marper) v Chief Constable of the South Yorkshire Police [2002] 1 WLR 3223 CA,  Back

142   R (S) v Chief Constable of the South Yorkshire Police, R (Marper) v Chief Constable of the South Yorkshire Police [2004] 1 WLR 2196 HL,  Back

143   Q 399 Back

144   Ev 142 Back

145   Ev 142 Back

146   Q 569 Back

147   Q 570 Back

148   Q 400 Back

149   Ev 141 Back

150   Ev 142 Back

151   Q 400 Back

152   Forensic Science Service, The National DNA Database Annual Report 2003-04, 2004 Back

153   Forensic Science Service, The National DNA Database Annual Report 2003-04, 2004 Back

154   As above. Back

155   As above. Back

156   Ev 192 Back

157   As above. Back

158   HoL S&T Cttee, 4th Report Session 2000-01  Back

159   HGC, Inside Information: Balancing interests in the use of personal genetic data, DoH, 2002 Back

160   Forensic Science Service, The National DNA Database Annual Report 2003-04, 2004 Back

161   Ev 116, Ev 125 Back

162   Home Office, Review of the Forensic Science Service, July 2003 Back

163   Ev 131 Back

164   Ev 116 Back

165   Ev 193 Back

166   Ev 194 Back

167   Ev 141 Back

168   Q 571 Back

169   Q 575 Back

170   Q 575 Back

171   Ev 194-195 Back

172   Ev 195 Back

173   Ev 213 Back

174   Ev 195 Back

175   Ev 195 Back

176   Ev 141 Back

177   Forensic Science Service, The National DNA Database Annual Report 2003-04, 2004 Back

178   New Scientist, Guilt by association, Frederick Bieber and David Lazer, 23 October 2004 Back

179   Q 387 Back

180   Williams, Johnson and Martin, Genetic Information & Crime Investigation, November 2004 Back

181   Williams, Johnson and Martin, Genetic Information & Crime Investigation, November 2004 Back

182   As above. Back

183   Home Office, Police Science and Technology Strategy 2004-09, May 2004 Back

184   Q 389 Back

185   Ev 170 Back

186   Ev 170 Back

187   Q 391 Back

188   Q 391 Back

189   Q 579 Back

190   Q 501 Back

191   Ev 170 Back

192   The Prosecution Team, Guidance on DNA Charging, 16 July 2004 Back

193   Presentation by Karen Squibb-Williams, Science and Criminal Justice Working Together, 4 February 2005 Back

194   Q 500 Back

195   Forensic Science Service, The National DNA Database Annual Report 2003-04, 2004 Back

196   The Bichard Inquiry Report, HC 653, June 2004 Back

197   Q 236 Back

198   Ev 204 Back

199   Ev 197 Back

200   Council Resolution of 25 June 2001 on the exchange of DNA analysis results (2001/C 187/01) Back

201  Back

202   Take everyone's DNA fingerprint, says pioneer, The Independent, 3 February 2003 Back

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