Belfast Telegraph

Fingerprint legal row could affect outcome of 180 cases

Electronically-captured fingerprint evidence was used in nearly 180 serious crime or terrorist cases during a two-year period without the required Government authorisation.

Senior judges were yesterday told the Live Scan system took 50,000 prints in Northern Ireland from 2007-09, even though approval needed for the technique from the Secretary of State was not in place.

Details emerged during a case which could have implications for any convictions secured during that period on the basis of that technology alone.

The Court of Appeal has been asked to rule on the admissibility of fingerprint evidence taken by Live Scan and used to find two men guilty of stealing guttering.

David Hunter QC, on behalf of the Public Prosecution Service, said that there had been a two-year “hiatus” from March 2007-March 2009 when authorisation required under legislation for the equipment was outstanding. During that period 50,000 fingerprints were taken using the electronic system, which replaces the traditional ink and paper method, the court was told.

Mr Hunter said: “From this over 800 evidential statements have been produced from the fingerprint bureau arising out of their examination of Live Scan fingerprints.

“Of these 800 statements, 179 have been identified as related to serious crime or terrorist offences.”

It emerged during the hearing that similar provisions planned for England and Wales were not enacted, meaning the same legal requirement for Government authorisation was never in place.

Lord Justice Girvan, one of the three-judge panel hearing the case, said: “What is somewhat surprising is the lack of communication between two parts of the jurisdiction on issues which are of common interest.”

Mr Hunter acknowledged the apparent “anomaly” of the situation, which also led to the requirement in Northern Ireland being repealed soon after the Secretary of State gave his approval.

The hearing was adjourned until next month for more details to be supplied on the legislative history surrounding the issue in England and Wales.

Policing Board member, DUP MLA Jimmy Spratt, said last night: “Obviously the Chief Constable will look at any issue in relation to Northern Ireland and report to the Policing Board.”

Background

Fingerprint recognition refers to the automated method of verifying a match between two human fingerprints.

The three basic patterns of fingerprint ridges are the arch, loop, and whorl.

An arch is a pattern where the ridges enter from one side of the finger, rise in the centre forming an arc, and then exit the other side of the finger. The loop is a pattern where the ridges enter from one side of a finger, form a curve, and tend to exit from the same side they enter. In the whorl pattern, ridges form circularly around a central point on the finger.

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