Tag Archives: European Court of Human Rights

It’s About More Than Damian Green

As I mentioned last year, following the victory of the S and Marper case against the British government in the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), the Home Office became obliged to remove innocent people from the National DNA Database. Not only then Home Secretary Jacqui Smith showed a lack of interest in doing so, but then this month the for-profit policing organisation ACPO outright instructed Chief Constables in England and Wales not to comply with the ruling. Makes it interesting when Tory shadow cabinet minister Damian Green then finds himself able to be taken off the database:

Damian Green, the Conservative frontbench immigration spokesman whose arrest during a Home Office leaks inquiry sparked a parliamentary storm, has won a four-month battle to have his DNA, fingerprint and police records destroyed.

The Metropolitan police told Green’s lawyers he is to be treated as “an exceptional case”. His DNA sample and fingerprints, taken when he was arrested, will be deleted within “a number of weeks”.

Green last night welcomed the decision “as a small but significant victory for freedom” but asked when DNA samples and profiles of 850,000 other innocent people who had been arrested but never charged would be destroyed.

Now why should a Tory front bencher (likely to be in government in the next 12 months) be able to force the Met to change their position on the DNA database, when so many others can’t? Green has the same question:

The home secretary is dragging his feet in producing even a consultation document in response to the European court’s ruling, which destroys the legal basis of current policy. So the policy, which intrudes on the privacy of hundreds of thousands of innocent people, could remain in place for months.

Britain is at the extreme end of this kind of state intrusion. At the end of September 2008, the national DNA database contained computerised DNA profiles and linked DNA samples from approximately 4.7 million individuals (more than 7% of the UK population). This is a much higher proportion of the population than any other EU or G8 country.

It’s quite unthinkable that the Home Office should so willingly ignore the ECHR’s ruling, although less so for the Association of Chief Police Officers, who contrary to popular belief aren’t even a government body. It might make political sense for both to limit their future embarrassment at a government minister with his DNA on the register, but their compliance with the ECHR ruling should be paramount. It’s a joke, as Liberty’s Shami Chakrabarti points out, for decisions about which innocent people get their DNA removed from the database to be determined by whether or not they have an entry in Who’s Who! Liberty’s response has been to begin ‘DNA clinics’ in Hackney alongside local MP Diane Abbott, to begin helping people locally who have had their DNA retained illegally. Liberty says:

“If Damian Green MP can have his DNA destroyed in record time, young people in Hackney should be entitled to the same. Those without a powerful voice are just as innocent, yet the police seem to find their requests for DNA destruction considerably easier to dismiss.

Forty percent of Britain’s criminals are not on the database but hundreds of thousands of innocent people are. The National DNA database is one of the largest in the world, holding 4.5 million profiles – this includes around 300,000 children and approximately 850,000 innocent people who have never been charged or cautioned.

And Abbott provides an important reminder why it’s important to begin this process in somewhere like her constituency:

[But] as the Home Affairs Select Committee pointed out this month, black men are disproportionately represented on the database. In particular there are tens of thousands of completely innocent young people who have been stigmatised in this way. It is time that the government acted on the ECHR ruling that automatic retention of DNA is wrong. And I am looking forward to working with Liberty to make sure that young people in Hackney who are innocent of any crime can have their DNA taken off the government’s database just like Damian Green”

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Police Formally Ignore European Court

The police system in this country lurches from the banal to the ridiculous. After the victory of the S and Marper case against the government in the European Court of Human Rights in December, requiring innocent people’s DNA to be removed from the National DNA Database, then Home Secretary Jacqui Smith justified keeping them on because of the effectiveness of the database as a whole in preventing crime and bringing offenders to justice. Typically she failed to mention that the inclusion of innocent people’s DNA had played no role whatsoever in the effective use of the database – in fact during the largest growth period of the database, its effectivness fell. In May though she decided to subvert the rule of law and keep innocent people’s DNA on the database for up to twelve years. Now the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) has instructed Chief Constables to ignore the S and Marper ruling entirely:

Chief constables across England and Wales have been told to ignore a landmark ruling by the European court of human rights and carry on adding the DNA profiles of tens of thousands of innocent people to a national DNA database.

Senior police officers have also been “strongly advised” that it is “vitally important” that they resist individual requests based on the Strasbourg ruling to remove DNA profiles from the national database in cases such as wrongful arrest, mistaken identity, or where no crime has been committed.

The advice to senior officers comes in a letter from the Association of Chief Police Officers criminal records office. The letter, seen by the Guardian, tells chief constables that new Home Office guidelines following the ruling in the case of S and Marper are not expected to take effect until 2010.

“Until that time, the current retention policy on fingerprints and DNA remains unchanged,” it says. “Individuals who consider they fall within the ruling in the S and Marper case should await the full response to the ruling by the government prior to seeking advice and/or action from the police service in order to address their personal issue on the matter.

“Acpo strongly advise that decisions to remove records should not be based on [the government’s] proposed changes. It is therefore vitally important that any applications for removals of records should be considered against current legislation.”

This move by ACPO should be seen in light of what ACPO actually is – a quango, and one which still supports the behaviour of the Metropolitan Police at the G20 protests. It is a private, for-profit advisory body, and not a constitutional arm of the police of the UK. Yet we are in an age where these extra-governmental bodies determine (and subvert) the rule of law (ISA anybody?) and public policy. Lib Dem Shadow Home Secretary Chris Huhne is right – it’s outrageous that the Home Office’s post-S and Marper guidance won’t be available until 2010, unacceptable that the government intends to use statutory instruments to bypass the will and scrutiny of the House of Commons in trying to sidestep the European Court, and even more outrageous that ACPO should feel able to ignore the European Court’s wishes altogether. The rule of law is being trashed by the institutions charged with being its ultimate guarantors – they must be stopped.

The Government Just Doesn’t Get It

She put in an expenses claim for her husband’s porn to be paid by the taxpayer. In return Home Secretary Jacqui Smith has decided that it’s worth ignoring the European Court of Human Rights’ ruling on the National DNA Database entirely, and is now even going to deny the House of Commons a vote on how she’s to alter her department’s use of it:

Jacqui Smith, the home secretary, has been warned that the government risks further damaging the public’s faith in politics after it emerged that plans for the police to keep innocent people’s DNA profiles for up to 12 years will become law without a Commons vote.

Opposition parties and civil liberty groups united to condemn plans that are being steered through parliament while MPs are distracted by the expenses row.

The Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats claim the government is seeking to make controversial changes to the national DNA database via a “statutory instrument” because it fears losing a vote that would be required if they were introduced by the more conventional method of primary legislation.

Get this lot out now. Replace Brown with Johnson after New Labour starts its final implosion after the European parliamentary elections, set a general election date for November, with Johnson setting that date for a referendum on proportional representation (PR) which the new Speaker, with an enhanced role of protecting the integrity of parliament, could also publicly endorse. Johnson would still likely lose the final first-past-the-post election, but he would also be responsible for the beginning of the end of this abuse altogether. I don’t think MPs are distracted by the expenses row – I don’t think this constant, illiberal, deceitful abuse of the electorate and parliament is separate from it – it’s all related. Just look at the undemocratic means by which she’s planning to use to get her way:

A statutory instrument has to be discussed only by a specialist committee which meets for 90 minutes and is usually made up of 16 MPs and a chairman. Critics say the Labour MPs who will dominate the committee will be handpicked by government whips and therefore back the Home Office proposals.

Why this procedure is so abusive is explained by Henry Porter:

The general point about statutory instruments is that they greatly increase the power of the executive and allow ministers to avoid unfavourable publicity and critical examination.

The Norton commission in 2000 said that scrutiny of statutory instruments was “woefully inadequate” and that “major changes were needed to existing practice”. This has not happened.

A statutory instrument should be published in draft form giving MPs the chance to look at the measure on its merits and describe in simple terms what it means to the public. A sifting committee should apply a systematic scrutiny and decide whether the measure should be debated. At present, it is left to researchers and individual MPs to ferret out any problems.

To restore power and respect to MPs, statutory instruments should be amendable by either house and both houses should have the power to refer back to the ministry concerned with precise suggestions.

Once the measure becomes law there should be opportunities for post legislative scrutiny to see how it is working in practice.

This government is fully out of touch with what’s moral, both in its attitude towards its own entitlements, and in terms of what legislation is just. Even Blair didn’t ignore the European Court – Smith and Brown must not be allowed to run roughshod over our basic civil liberties and human rights any longer. They must both go, and with any luck they will – with a PR referendum put in place by Johnson, at least setting a requirement for cooperative politics ahead of coalition politics in five years’ time, would Prime Minister David Cameron really have a mandate to repeal the Human Rights Act after all?

Govt Refuses to Abandon Precriminalisation

In December the government was told by the European Court of Human Rights that retaining innocent people’s DNA records on the national DNA database was illegal.  Today Jacqui Smith decided she didn’t care:

The genetic profiles of hundreds of ­thousands of innocent people are to be kept on the national DNA database for up to 12 years in a decision critics claim is designed to sidestep a European human rights ruling that the “blanket” retention of suspects’ data is unlawful.

The proposed new rules for the national DNA database to be put forward tomorrow by the home secretary, Jacqui Smith, include plans to keep the DNA profiles of innocent people who are arrested but not convicted of minor offences for six years.

The proposal would also apply to children from age 10 who are arrested but never successfully prosecuted.

Splendid. So rather than comply with the court, she’s decided to defy the law, conventional wisdom and statistics. She says:

“It is crucial that we do everything we can to protect the public by preventing crime and bringing offenders to justice. The DNA database plays a vital role in helping us do that and will help ensure that a great many criminals are behind bars where they belong,” said Smith.

Yes it does Jacqui, but it’s also been proven that keeping everyone on the database has done nothing more to prevent crime or bring offenders to justice. Does she not understand the distinction, is she just stupid, or doesn’t she care? DNA profiling pioneer Professor Sir Alec Jeffreys says:

“I do not see this as balanced and proportionate. It still places England, Wales and Northern Ireland as the only jurisdictions in the world, to my knowledge, to retain such large amounts of innocent DNA information.”

Jeffreys dismissed a Home Office prediction that 4,500 fewer crimes will be detected if the proposals go ahead.

“There is an unspoken assumption in here that these thousands of crimes that will not be detected by not having the DNA will remain undetected and that simply isn’t the case. A significant number of these will be detectable through conventional police work, including the obtaining of fresh police DNA samples.”

He demanded that the government release further details of its concerns about poorer detection rates.

“We have been told some very cursory figures. One would like to know a great deal more. Are these serious crimes? Are they a relatively small number of individuals, for example serial burglars? We don’t have that information at all. And we need that information to be able to balance the improved ability to detect these crimes against the right to a private life.”

He makes entirely the right case. Not only is it entirely right that many of these thousands of crimes would indeed be detectable by conventional police work, but it’s entirely unclear where the Home Office feels its current advantage lies in keeping innocent people on the database. From the looks of it it’s represents a continuation of the government’s now near total adherence to precriminalisation in their obsession with ‘protection’. Mark Thomas points out:

Smith’s new regime leaves the innocent who have been cleared of charges of minor, non-violent crime on the database for six years, which erodes the principle of innocent until proven guilty and in classic New Labour fashion creates a third way, neither innocent or guilty but innocentish.

Then there is the very simple issue of privacy, something consecutive Labour home secretaries simply don’t understand. Why should the police have DNA information that could relate to a person’ s paternity or genetic prevalence to certain illness when the individuals concerned may well not hold that information themselves?

Most galling of all, though, is that Smith’s proposal still clings to the notion of creating a compulsory national DNA database by stealth. Instead of openly arguing and campaigning for this, Smith seeks to build one incrementally, slyly and on the quiet.

May this disgusting woman be taken to court again and lose again.

Killed by the Metropolitan Police?

I wrote the other day about the man who died during the G20 protests. It was known he had not been protesting, yet had been ‘kettled’ along with innocent bystanders and protesters alike, and collapsed and died on the scene. What wasn’t known was that the police had attacked him first:

The man who died during last week’s G20 protests was “assaulted” by riot police shortly before he suffered a heart attack, according to witness statements received by the Independent Police Complaints Commission.

Investigators are examining a series of corroborative accounts that allege Ian Tomlinson, 47, was a victim of police violence in the moments before he collapsed near the Bank of England in the City of London last Wednesday evening. Three witnesses have told the Observer that Mr Tomlinson was attacked violently as he made his way home from work at a nearby newsagents. One claims he was struck on the head with a baton.

Photographer Anna Branthwaite said: “I can remember seeing Ian Tomlinson. He was rushed from behind by a riot officer with a helmet and shield two or three minutes before he collapsed.” Branthwaite, an experienced press photographer, has made a statement to the IPCC.

Another independent statement supports allegations of police violence. Amiri Howe, 24, recalled seeing Mr Tomlinson being hit “near the head” with a police baton. Howe took one of a sequence of photographs that show a clearly dazed Mr Tomlinson being helped by a bystander.

A female protester, who does not want to be named but has given her testimony to the IPCC, said she saw a man she later recognised as Tomlinson being pushed aggressively from behind by officers. “I saw a man violently propelled forward, as though he’d been flung by the arm, and fall forward on his head.

“He hit the top front area of his head on the pavement. I noticed his fall particularly because it struck me as a horrifically forceful push by a policeman and an especially hard fall; it made me wince.”

More eyewitness accounts:

Despite what the disgusting tabloids would have you believe, despite what the City of London Police would have you believe, this was not a death which had no cause and no context. Ian Tomlinson by all accounts did not have a random heart attack which was noone’s fault, and which could never have been prevented. He was arbitrarily attacked by the police, and there’s plenty of evidence now that they attacked people indiscriminately:

– an Al-Jazeera TV journalist gets a vicious demonstration of riot police power;

– the entirely peaceful Climate Camp protesters (who didn’t even fight back) are brutalised without cause:

However given the Met’s proclivity for violence and the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC)’s long track record of exonerating palpably guilty officers from blame, I shouldn’t expect anyone to face justice for causing Ian Tomlinson’s death. I would imagine the best we can hope for is for the Met’s tactic of ‘kettling’ to be ruled illegal by the European Court of Human Rights. Maybe if policing tactics were imposed which were both humane and which presumed the humanity of protesters from the outset, people like Tomlinson wouldn’t have to die.

Jacqui Smith Ignores European Court

You heard. Ignores. The government was told by the European Court of Human Rights that its policy of retaining the DNA of innocent people on its DNA database was illegal. Jacqui Smith’s response:

Home Office sources said the government, which was given three months to respond to the ruling, has “no plans” to destroy samples of DNA.

So rather than complying with the European Court the government is essentially determined to sidestep it. Removing innocent people from the database is meaningless if their samples are retained. All to shore up a database whose overall effectiveness is questionable, and despite it being a statistical fact that the inclusion of the innocent hasn’t helped solve crime at all.

Jacqui Smith Attacks European Court of Human Rights

The government’s addiction to criminalising the thoroughly innocent was dealt a severe blow today. In a ruling following the victory of S and Marper:

The European court of human rights in Strasbourg said that keeping innocent people’s DNA records on a criminal register breached article eight of the Human Rights Convention, covering the right to respect for private and family life.

Keeping DNA material from those who were “entitled to the presumption of innocence” as they had never been convicted of an offence carried “the risk of stigmatisation”, the ruling said.

Attacking the “blanket and indiscriminate nature” of the power to retain data, the judges said protections offered by article eight “would be unacceptably weakened if the use of modern scientific techniques in the criminal justice system were allowed at any cost and without carefully balancing the potential benefits of the extensive use of such techniques against important private-life interests”.

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith of course disagreed:

“DNA and fingerprinting is vital to the fight against crime, providing the police with more than 3,500 matches a month, and I am disappointed by the European court of human rights’ decision,” she said.

“The government mounted a robust defence before the court and I strongly believe DNA and fingerprints play an invaluable role in fighting crime and bringing people to justice.”

It’s Jacqui’s old, familiar and utterly flawed ploy to suggest that all DNA should be held just because some DNA being held has been effective in crime detection. And it’s worth bearing in mind just how severely she overstates the effectiveness of her DNA database policy:

Figures show that for the past six years the number of crimes solved using DNA evidence has remained static at between 0.34 and 0.36 per cent – about one in 300 of all recorded crimes.

The number of crimes which were solved by a DNA match fell by 13 per cent to 17,614 last year as recorded crime fell overall, according to figures contained in Parliamentary answers.

Over the same period the number of people’s whose identity was on the national DNA database more than doubled in size from 1.9million people to 4.1million.

Today was a good result, but bear in mind she hasn’t committed to changing the law as a result yet.