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The national dna database
The National DNA Database (NDNAD) was set up in 1995, and it has since become a very potent tool in fighting crime. It can be argued that the database is infringing civil liberties by retaining the DNA profiles that the Police have collected, this issue will be discussed. There are also human rights issues that will be addressed. However, the NDNAD has helped to secure many convictions and prevented miscarriages of justices which will be given consideration in this work.
The NDNAD is a forensic detection tool used by the Police. It stores Deoxyribonucleic Acid (DNA), found in virtually every cell in the body; each person’s DNA is unique. It can be found in blood, semen and saliva left at a crime scene. It allows the Police to identify a suspect early in an investigation and gain convictions. There has been calls for a nation wide database but this has met with strong resistance and the current database is also under scrutiny, because it is seen by many as an infringement of civil liberties. However, the benefits of a NDNAD can be clearly shown.
In 2005, the NDNAD was responsible for twenty thousand convictions; four hundred and twenty two of which were murders and manslaughters. As laid down in Article 2 of the Human Rights Act 1998, you have an ‘absolute right to the life and this must be protected by law’. Using the NDNAD the police are catching murders in some cases before they can strike again . Crime figures for 2005 show there were seven hundred and sixty five murders, and nine hundred and twenty two manslaughters. Conviction rates could have been even higher with a nation wide database. The table below shows how Police investigations are becoming more successful at securing convictions using DNA:
There are no statistics available to show how many crimes the NDNAD has prevented. Yet, as one of the government’s primary duties is to protect its citizens from crime, it is fair to assume that NDNAD is acting as a deterrent. NDNAD is protecting civil liberties and freedoms that are expected in a liberal society. The Database is also responsible for solving ‘cold cases’; a crime which as remained undetected for a long period of time, in some cases years.
When considering civil liberties, consideration must be given to Sean Hodgson, whose liberty was removed for 27 years for a murder he never committed. In 1982 he was convicted of strangling Teresa De Simone in Southampton. Mr Hodgson would never admit he was guilty, so was never eligible for parole. After DNA tests were performed, on items preserved from the car Teresa was strangled in, it was found not to be that of Sean Hodgson. The NDNAD can stop these horrendous miscarriage of justice.
The argument that innocent people on the NDNAD, will not catch criminals, because the innocent have nothing to hide, nothing to fear, is a fallacious argument. This is ideology, assuming that people are born criminals, and there are those, walking around in society today, who will never commit a crime. ‘Psychology and Crime’ explains that criminal behaviour can occur as a matter of a person’s circumstances. Christopher Woods is a prime example; Woods was a well respected man who worked in a charity shop, he had had his home reposed in 1986 and had been living in a council house ever since. He began to fall into arrears with his rent and, when the council threatened to repossess, he went out and robbed two building societies to pay the rent. Christopher Woods was an innocent man until he was fifty three years old.
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There are beliefs that civil liberties are being breached by NDNAD. There are also concerns about the powers that the Police have to obtain a DNA profile, place it on the database and retain it indefinitely. They (= who?!) also state that the NDNAD could lead us into a Police state. The arguments against the NDNAD are equally as strong as those in favour.
The Police have powers to add innocent citizens to the NDNAD, that have been arrested and not convicted, they can also add volunteers, that have given there DNA to be eliminated from an enquiry; for instance a rape case. These DNA profiles are put on the database and never removed. If a sample of DNA is found at a crime scene, it is then run through the NDNAD to see if there is a match. Innocent people are having their civil liberties breeched by being turned into ‘pre-suspects’. The common law principle is innocent till proven guilty. The NDNAD is turning the nation into suspects.
Any society that is democratic, must strike a balance between the rights of privacy, a persons right of innocence, and the need to fight crime. New powers given to the police to take DNA samples from people for the most minor of offences such as a dog fowling the pavement or begging in the street, combined with reports in the media that the Police are arresting people, purely to add them to the NDNAD, is tipping that balance towards a Police state.
One third of all Young black males are on the NDNAD. This again is in direct violation of there human rights which says ‘you will not be discriminated against because of skin colour’. Any interference with these rights are to be proportionate, clearly this is not the case. Black males are been stigmatised by Police. The Police with an over eagerness, are causing alienation among the ethnic minorities by pre judging them as law breakers. This, once again, is underling there civil liberty as in the Race Relations Act 2000. There have been calls by senior members of the government and Police for a nation wide NDNAD, with DNA being taken from new born babies and being added to the database. These would remove the problems associated with discrimination, but this would prove not to be cost effective and the benefits to society would be disproportionate to the intrusion of privacy.
The Data Protection Act 1998 exists to protect organisations from sharing personal information about citizens. The NDNAD holds the most personal of data, your genetic signature. Section 35 of the Data Protection Act, allows the Police to share this information with anybody. This violates your Human Rights which states that everybody has a right to privacy.
In conclusion, both sides of this argument have been addressed, and both are equally strong. The advantages of the NDNAD can easily be seen, and the case of Steve Hodgson highlights this. However the civil liberties infringements are also apparent and the misrepresentation of ethnic minorities needs addressing by the government. The usefulness of the NDNAD cannot be ignored and a balance needs to be found in the way that the Police use and retain this information and how long they hold the profiles for. A summary offence should only be held for 2 years and an indictable offence 20 years I believe this would strike a fair balance.
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