Police win DNA samples test case

Posted: 27th September 2013

Police3In a decision of major significance to police forces, the High Court has ruled that a reformed criminal’s human rights were not violated when he was required to give a non-intimate sample for inclusion in the Police National DNA Database. The Court concluded that the man’s right to respect for his private life was outweighed by the legitimate objective of preventing disorder and crime.

The man, who had a history of serious offending but who had not been in trouble for some years, was visited at his home by officers who presented him with a letter, seeking his consent to a DNA sample being taken. The letter warned the man that, if he did not consent, he might be liable to arrest if he failed to attend a police station to give a sample within seven days.

The Court found that the terms of the letter were unlawful in that they exceeded the statutory powers to take DNA samples enjoyed by police officers by virtue of section 63 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. The mandatory requirement to attend a police station could only have been lawful if the taking of a sample had been authorised by an officer of the rank of inspector or above.

Such authority had subsequently been given by a detective inspector. However, in a judicial review challenge, the man’s lawyers argued that the requirement to give a sample breached his right to respect for privacy. It was submitted that, in the absence of any suspicion that he had committed any other criminal offence, the requirement to give a sample so that it could be checked against the national database was indiscriminate and speculative.

In dismissing those arguments, the Court found that the limited interference with the man’s rights was proportionate in the circumstances and fully justified by the public interest in the efficient detection of crime. Although it would have been ‘the better course’ to provide the man with an opportunity to respond to the request, the Court noted that ‘no stigma’ attached to the non-intimate taking of a sample which could have been achieved within the privacy of the man’s home.