|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Phillips of Sudbury: My Lords, I wish to add little to what my noble friend Lord McNally said so cogently--because it was all said, not least by me, last night. There is one point to which my noble friend did not refer and which is highly germane; namely the chaotic state of the national DNA database. We cannot look at the amendment before us without realising that the police, in an audit of the national DNA database last July, found that over 50,000 samples had been stored illegally. To those of us on these Benches, it seems bizarre to say the least that the Government should be considering the proposals in Clauses 85 and 86 against that backdrop. As I say, I propose to confine my remarks to that point in support of my noble friend Lord McNally.
Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, one never comes to this House without learning something. This afternoon we have learnt that the noble Lord, Lord McNally, feels sinister at midnight. I take it that his classical education is coming out--"sinister" comes from the Latin for "left".
These clauses are not a reaction to an event such as a bombing--as the noble Lord rightly pointed out, we saw such a reaction following the Omagh bombing and on other occasions. On the contrary, they are a more long-term reaction to changes in scientific knowledge and hence of the techniques that have become available.
We had an interesting debate on the matter last night. I shall not repeat the points I made then, save to say that I do not believe that we are collectively winning the war against crime. DNA evidence--and the handling of fingerprint evidence--is an extremely valuable investigatory tool; it also potentially provides high-quality evidence in court cases. In these circumstances I believe it right that these clauses should remain in the Bill.
The Attorney-General (Lord Williams of Mostyn): My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Cope of Berkeley, for his remarks. This provision is not a short-term remedy; nor has it been proposed without consultation. As your Lordships will remember, as long ago as July 1999, the Home Office published a consultation document, Proposals for Revising Legislative Measures on Fingerprints, Footprints and DNA Samples. That document formed the basis for some of the measures contained in the Bill. That was a fair while ago, and it is not right to assume or to mis-remember what happened in another place. The provisions relating to fingerprints and DNA samples were debated at length at all stages, including in Committee, in the Commons. However, I listened
However, I know that there are concerns among your Lordships that are not partisan; and, indeed, not entirely complimentary, although I gratefully received the bouquet from the noble Lord, Lord McNally. I always wanted to be an actor, and I believe that Donald Pleasence was rather a good one. I should like to spend a few moments on the issue because we need to remember what these clauses are talking about. They are talking about the retention of all fingerprints and samples taken on suspicion of involvement in a criminal offence. The purposes for which they can then be used--it is worth looking at the text of the Bill--are specifically restricted: the prevention and detection of crime, the investigation of an offence and the conduct of a prosecution. They cannot lawfully be used for any more devious purposes. I almost said "sinister"; but perhaps I should use "devious" as the adjective. They can be used only to prove or disprove involvement in crime.
We are not seeking to extend the powers to take fingerprints or other samples; we are seeking only to retain those that have been lawfully taken. These are extremely important aspects. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Cope of Berkeley, is right to point out that one is capable of generating by these modern procedures evidence of extremely high "objective" quality. I do not apologise for using that word again. It is much more potentially capable of being reliable, objective evidence than, for example, the eye-witness identification made by the honest, apparently trustworthy and reliable witness who, although honest and apparently trustworthy, experience has commonly shown us can be plainly mistaken.
The proposed changes about retention were made necessary as a result of the decisions of the Court of Appeal Criminal Division in the cases of the Crown against Weir and the Crown against B, under the Attorney-General's reference No. 3/199. Those cases put into stark focus--I do not apologise for those words because they are a moderate description of what occurred--whether or not our law was coherent, comprehensible or justifiable on the retention of samples in those cases. I should remind noble Lords who did not have the benefit of being present in Committee last night, or the opportunity fully to read the Hansard report of the proceedings, that in those cases there was compelling, objective evidence of, in the words of the noble Lord, Lord Cope, "high quality" that linked one defendant to a rape and a second defendant to a murder. If that is to be called "playing the populist card", I believe that to be fundamentally mistaken as a description.
It was originally held that that evidence of high objective scientific quality, which was capable of being extremely reliable, had to be excluded from the jury. Why? It was because both defendants, having given their original DNA samples, had either been acquitted or not proceeded against. The Court of Appeal ruled that material to be not admissible. If it is a sensible principle of criminal jurisprudence--I contend that it is--that cogent, probative evidence of high quality ought to be admitted, then, with great respect, those decisions caused some surprise.
The subsequent decision of the House of Lords overturned the ruling of the Court of Appeal and, therefore, the contention made by and on behalf of the Attorney-General succeeded. The House of Lords ruled that where a DNA sample fell to be destroyed because of Section 64 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 but had not been, it did not make evidence obtained as a failure to comply with that prohibition inadmissible. The Joint Committee on Human Rights, which I know is only just starting what I hope will be extremely important and influential work, commented:
The ruling of the Judicial Committee of the House of Lords allows the court a discretion to use the information, but that only affects cases where by chance, inadvertence or inefficiency the samples have been kept. I am most grateful for the support received from the Opposition Front Bench in this respect. The Government's view is that the evidence should not be discarded and that the police should be able to make use of that valuable and objective evidence. In my view, once it is acceptable that prints and samples should be able to be retained and properly used in the defence of individual liberty, which has been attacked by criminals if they are proved to be such, it is a proportionate use of the power of society to enforce the protection of the individuals who compose it.
A further worry expressed last night related to the retention of samples that were given voluntarily. Being an optimistic creature, I shall say this now for the last time: the samples can be retained only if there is written consent to the retention given by the person providing the sample. We believe that these are legitimate weapons in the structured armoury of a civil state response. I recognise that the concerns expressed were not raised on the basis of party point scoring; indeed, I do not believe that anyone on either side thought that any of us was indulging in that last night.
Obviously, I have given a good deal of thought to the expression of view that was encapsulated quite briefly and economically by the noble Lords, Lord McNally and Lord Phillips. I hope that they will accept the following suggestion as being constructive. Bearing in mind the concerns expressed, I believe that I ought to be able to give a commitment--I have
I made my commitment to the long-term review of the database in what I accept was a less specific form to the noble Baroness. I believe that both she and the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, accepted it as being a constructive approach. This commitment is deliberately more focused because I listened carefully to what noble Lords said. I hope that they will recognise that I am not playing any sort of card. I am trying to meet legitimate concerns that were conscientiously expressed and to balance and marry those with the views advanced by myself on behalf of the Government and by the noble Lord, Cope of Berkeley, on behalf of the Opposition Front Bench.
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page