EMBARGO: MIDNIGHT 23 March 2004
LAW REFORM COMMISSION ISSUES CONSULTATION PAPER ON THE ESTABLISHMENT OF A DNA DATABASE
The Law Reform Commission publishes its Consultation Paper on the Establishment of a DNA Database today (24 March 2004). The Consultation Paper will be launched at 6pm this evening by the Minister for Justice, Michael McDowell SC, TD.
Main Points of Consultation Paper
This Consultation Paper follows from a reference from the Attorney General requesting the Commission to consider the matter. DNA databases for crime investigation purposes have been established in a number of countries. There is currently no DNA database in Ireland. This Paper provisionally recommends the establishment of a limited DNA database and examines what form such a DNA database should take.
Using a DNA database for crime investigation purposes entails inserting DNA profiles from certain persons onto a database and comparing these with DNA profiles generated from crime stains found at crime scenes in order to detect matches. A DNA database therefore enables a person, not previously suspected of committing a crime, to be identified as a suspect.
The benefits of establishing a DNA database are widely acknowledged. Experience in other jurisdictions has illustrated the important contribution a DNA database makes to crime investigation. However, as against this, the disadvantages in terms of the possible infringement of human rights must be considered. The Law Reform Commission’s Consultation Paper on the Establishment of a DNA Database aims to strike a balance between these two conflicting interests.
The Law Reform Commission draws a distinction between the DNA samples and the DNA profiles in determining whether the sample or the profile or both should be destroyed. The DNA sample contains the whole of a person’s DNA, while the DNA profile, extracted from the sample, consists of information regarding just a small section of an individual’s DNA. While the DNA sample contains all of an individual’s genetic information, the DNA profile is at present believed to contain very little personal information aside from parentage and relatedness. Only the DNA profile would be retained on the DNA database.
The recommendations contained in the Law Reform Commission’s Consultation Paper on the Establishment of a DNA Database aim to ensure that a DNA database is established, which is not only effective in combating crime, but also safeguards individual human rights. Among the provisional recommendations are:
- The DNA profiles of convicted people may be retained on the DNA database indefinitely.
- The DNA profiles of persons suspected of committing serious crimes (usually those carrying a possible minimum sentence of at least 5 years, for example murder, rape and burglary) may be retained on the database indefinitely.
- The profiles of non-suspects or persons who have not been convicted of offences may only be retained on the DNA database if they consent.
- A mass screen may be conducted if a Garda Superintendent approves.
- DNA crime scene samples should be retained indefinitely.
- The DNA samples obtained directly from individuals (called comparator samples) should be destroyed after the final conclusion of the case for which they were obtained.
- The DNA database would be used primarily for crime investigation purposes but could also be used for the identification of deceased and severely injured persons in limited circumstances.
- An independent Forensic Science Agency (into which the Forensic Science Laboratory would be merged) subject to external oversight should be responsible for holding the samples and acting as custodian of the DNA database.
- Strong security measures should be implemented to protect the DNA samples and the DNA database from unauthorised physical or electronic intrusion.
- It should be an offence to misuse the DNA samples or the DNA database.
- In all cases where it is sought to rely on DNA evidence alone, the jury should be warned of the dangers of convicting on this evidence in the absence of other supporting evidence.
For further information from/interview with Director of Research Raymond Byrne, contact:
Ruth Burnside 087 9967496 / Winifred McCourt 087 2446004 Gibney Communications, 01 661 0402
Notes for editors: the Law Reform Commission was established by the Law Reform Commission Act 1975 as an independent statutory body whose main aim is to keep the law under review and to make practical proposals for its reform. To date, the Commission has published over 100 documents containing proposals for law reform. These are available on the Commission’s website, www.lawreform.ie.
The Commission usually publishes in two stages: first, a Consultation Paper and then a Report. A Consultation Paper is intended to form the basis for discussion and accordingly the recommendations, conclusions and suggestions are provisional. Submissions on the provisional recommendations contained in this Consultation Paper are welcome. In order that the Commission’s Final Report may be made available as soon as possible, those who wish to do so are requested to make their submissions to the Commission by the 31st August 2004.