EMBARGO: MIDNIGHT 14 NOVEMBER 2005
LAW REFORM COMMISSION ISSUES REPORT ON THE ESTABLISHMENT OF A DNA DATABASE
Tuesday, 15th November 2005: The Law Reform Commission’s Report on the Establishment of a DNA Database will be formally launched by the Attorney General, Mr Rory Brady SC, at the Commission’s offices at 6pm this evening.
This Report follows from a reference in 2003 by the Attorney General (made under the Law Reform Commission Act 1975) requesting the Commission to consider whether a DNA database should be established, and to address the constitutional and human rights issues associated with this question. In 2004, the Commission published a Consultation Paper on the Establishment of a DNA Database. Following a consultation process, this Report contains the Commission’s final recommendations on the matter.
The purpose and scope of a DNA Database
DNA evidence generated from biological samples (such as blood, saliva or hair samples) was first used as a forensic science tool in the mid 1980s, and since the 1990s it has been used in a large number of criminal investigations in Ireland. DNA evidence is therefore already being used on a case-by-case basis to establish whether a person who has been arrested and detained can be linked to a crime - and also to exclude such a person as a suspect. A DNA database would have the additional potential to enable a person, not previously suspected of a crime, to be linked to – and also excluded from – previously unsolved offences. In the absence of a DNA database, DNA profiling is useful only where a specific person has been identified through existing investigate means that would justify their arrest and detention.
A DNA database is a collection of DNA profiles generated from biological samples, which can be electronically stored for comparison with DNA profiles generated from samples found at a crime scene or from other sources. The DNA database can assist in one of three ways: (i) making ‘cold hits,’ where a profile from a crime scene is matched with the profile of a person on the database who was not previously a suspect; (ii) identifying links between crimes, by matching the same profile from different crime scenes, and then possibly also matching these with the profile of a particular person on the database; and (iii) rapidly excluding persons whose profiles are on the database by showing there is no match between the profile at the crime scene and the profiles on the database.
The Commission acknowledges in its Report that DNA databases in other countries have had important benefits for society in the investigation of crime. The Commission also examined, as requested by the Attorney General, to what extent a DNA database might pose potential risks to constitutional and human rights. The Commission’s Report aims to strike a balance between these two conflicting interests. The Report notes that limited DNA databases have proved very effective in other countries. The Report recommends the establishment of a limited DNA database and examines what form such a DNA database should take.
Detailed recommendations in the Report
The recommendations contained in the Report aim to ensure that the proposed DNA database would be effective in the investigation of crime and would also incorporate appropriate protections. Among the recommendations are:
- The DNA database would be used primarily for the investigation of crimes, but a separate index on the database could also be used to help identify missing persons.
- The database would consist of the DNA profiles of any person convicted of a serious crime (such as murder, rape, offences against the State, drugs offences, burglary, theft, criminal damage or assault causing harm – but not offences carrying less than 5 years imprisonment on conviction) and of those suspected of a serious crime.
- DNA profiles of persons convicted of a serious crime could be retained indefinitely on the DNA database.
- DNA profiles of persons suspected of committing serious crimes could only be retained temporarily on the database. These DNA profiles would be removed from the database and destroyed if no prosecution is brought or if the person is later acquitted.
- DNA profiles may also be taken from volunteers, that is people who are not suspects or been convicted of serious offences, but can only be retained on the DNA database if they consent.
- A mass DNA screening of groups of people may be conducted, subject to the approval of a Garda Chief Superintendent.
- The DNA database would be under the control of an independent Forensic Science Agency (which would incorporate the existing Forensic Science Laboratory)
- The proposed Forensic Science Agency would be subject to external oversight, and strong security measures would be in place to protect DNA samples and the DNA database from unauthorised intrusion.
BACKGROUND 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: http://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. A Consultation Paper on the Establishment of a DNA Database was published by the Commission in 2004. This Report represents the final views of the Commission, having taken account of the submissions received on the Consultation Paper.