Police forces waiting for a landmark ruling on whether taking DNA samples from prisoners who pre-date routine collection can breathe a sigh of relief today (September 24) after a Judicial Review ruled against an ex-prisoner’s challenge that the practice infringed his human rights.
Had the man, known as R, won his case, police could have been ordered to destroy thousands of DNA samples taken under Operation Nutmeg, which aims to see if there are any matches to unsolved crimes amongst those who offended before the date of routine collection.
Since 1994, people convicted of serious crimes have had DNA samples taken as a matter of course and added to the national database but, since Operation Nutmeg began, police forces have been requesting DNA samples from individuals jailed before that date.
An unnamed police force contacted R, who was jailed for manslaughter in the 1980s, in March of this year asking for a DNA sample because he had a previous conviction for a serious offence. The hand-delivered, pro-forma letter went on to say that if he failed to attend a police station to give one within seven days, he could be liable for arrest.
Arguing that he has turned his life around since 2000, R sought legal advice and was represented at the High Court by a QC, who said that his client’s human rights had been breached by the request because he had a right to a private life. However, one of the High Court judges ruled that the force’s request was both “lawful and proportionate”.
By July of this year, over 6,000 samples had been taken and 111 of them have been matched to crime scenes. The force involved in this case has sent out 391 similar letters to the one received by R, resulting in 389 DNA swabs being taken.
Mackrell Turner Garrett Solicitors in London
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