Black church leaders have hit out at plans to reform the national DNA database by holding the DNA profiles of innocent people for up to 12 years.
The Government announced last week that it plans to keep the DNA and fingerprints of people who have been cleared of criminal charges or who have never been charged for six years, while the DNA and fingerprints of people accused of serious violent or sexual offences, but not convicted, will be kept for 12 years.
The plans have come under fire from legal experts and community groups who say they violate human rights.
An estimated 77 per cent of young black men between the ages of 15 and 34 are on the DNA database, leading some black church leaders to fear that the reforms will disproportionately criminalise the black community.
“Current practice has effectively criminalised a whole community, this potentially effects every black family in the UK it is a very serious issue,” said the Rev Pedro Okoro, a lawyer and former chair of the executive board of African Caribbean Evangelical Alliance said.
He said the Home Office’s decision paid “lip service” to a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights that retaining the DNA of innocent people was a violation of people's fundamental rights to privacy.
“The Government should put this judgement into full effect and destroy DNA profiles and fingerprints of every innocent person currently on the database,” said Rev Okoro.
“There are people who face false accusations all the time, but when they are found innocent they should be afforded the same rights as every other law abiding citizen.”
The Rev Desmond Hall, chair of Christians Together in Brent, warned that community relations could be seriously damaged as a result of the reforms.
He said the Government’s reluctance to fully implement the ECHR’s ruling “could only lead us to assume that there is another agenda at play here”.
“And targeting our innocent young people is part of it,” he added.
Home Secretary Jackie Smith has announced the launch of a new consultation on whether the Government should delete innocent DNA.
Matilda MacAttram director of Black Mental Health UK said, “A public consultation is welcome, but it is clear from the European Court Ruling on the retention of the DNA and fingerprints that profiles of people who have never even been charged with an offence or have been cleared of a crime should be removed from the database and destroyed.
“Whole communities have found themselves criminalised by this system. For an innocent citizen to be expected to put up with a six to 12 year wait to have their DNA removed from a criminal database can hardly be deemed to be justice.”
Church leaders condemn Government decision to retain DNA
Published 10 May 2009 | Jennifer Gold