Belfast Telegraph

DNA data 'to respect human rights'

Justice Minister Alan Shatter has insisted a new database of DNA samples from convicted criminals and suspects in serious crimes will respect human rights.

Publishing a Bill for the establishment of the DNA database, the minister said the intelligence generated by the system would be "invaluable" to gardai in tackling crime.

"I made it a priority to bring forward comprehensive legislation to facilitate the optimal use of DNA in the fight against crime and to enhance co-operation within the EU and with other countries," Mr Shatter said.

"In doing this, I was also determined that the legislation would fully respect human rights. I am satisfied that we have met all of these objectives."

The Criminal Justice (Forensic Evidence and DNA Database System) Bill 2013 allows for officials to take mouth swabs or hair follicles from suspects and convicted criminals, including sex offenders.

Their DNA profile would be added to a database which will also include samples from unsolved crimes.

Mr Shatter said the Bill addresses concerns about the privacy rights of suspects whose DNA is added to the database and who are subsequently not convicted.

He insisted the Bill is different from one of the same name published by the previous government in 2010.

"The Bill published today is substantially amended in many respects to address issues that gave rise to genuine concerns, including in relation to the sensitive area of the retention of samples and DNA profiles of persons who are not subsequently convicted in order to ensure that any interference with their privacy rights is justified by the public interest in the investigation of crime and is proportionate," Mr Shatter said.

The database will be established and operated by the Forensic Science Laboratory of the Department of Justice and Equality at Garda Headquarters in Dublin.

It is expected to be particularly helpful in identifying prolific offenders, such as those involved in sexual offences, homicide and burglary.

Mr Shatter said it will lead to "more effective, targeted and smarter policing", and can be used in co-operation with other police forces to help trace criminals on the move.

The database will also help gardai determine the innocence of a suspect or a person wrongly convicted of an offence, as well as identifying missing or unknown persons and human remains.

"I am determined to ensure that the DNA database is ready for use as soon as the legislation is enacted," Mr Shatter said.

"To make this happen, the Forensic Science Laboratory has been furnished with resources for the necessary specialist staff and to allow for the purchase, installation and validation of sophisticated robotic sample handling instruments to cater for high throughput of samples.

"These are now in use and will be capable of processing the anticipated increased submissions associated with a national database."

Campaigners against sexual abuse, who have broadly welcomed Mr Shatter's publication of the Bill, have claimed the DNA database will help gardai bring significantly more sex offenders to justice.

Rape Crisis Network Ireland legal director Caroline Counihan said the organisation was particularly reassured by provisions in the Bill that require people on the sex offenders register to have their DNA added to the database.

"A DNA database increases the chances that perpetrators of sexual crime, especially those who are not known to the victims, will be brought to justice," Ms Counihan said.

"It could also assist the prosecution of perpetrators who may be known to their victims but who deny any involvement in the crime of which they are accused."

The Dublin Rape Crisis Network said the database could deter would-be offenders, while the Cari Foundation suggested it could be used to help solve historical sex crimes.

Cari's acting national clinical director Majella Ryan described the development as a vital step in the protection of children.

"We know that most sex offenders have a long history of abuse," Ms Ryan said.

"This database could go a long way to assist in the investigation of such crimes and provide solid evidence in these cases that historically can be difficult to prove."

Charity for victims of sexual abuse One in Four said the database will provide scientific evidence to support victims' testimonies, which should help raise the conviction rate for sex offences.

The Irish Human Rights Commission (IHRC) is to examine the Bill to determine whether it is respectful of human rights.

In a report on the Bill published by the previous government in 2010, the organisation warned that a balance must be struck between a person's rights and the wider public interest.

It said: "While appreciating the important contribution forensic sampling and the availability of a DNA database can make to crime investigation, the IHRC considers that legislation in this area must find a proportionate balance between the rights of the person who is the source of a DNA profile and the wider societal interest of the prevention of disorder and crime."


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