You might not have heard of Michael Marper, but he is very important to all of us. In 2001, Marper (who had no police record) was acquitted of harassment and asked the police to destroy the DNA sample they had taken from him. They declined to do so.
His case wound its way to the Court of Appeal, where it was refused. In fact the Lord Chief Justice remarked:
‘Not all un-convicted people are equal from a policing point of view, even though they are from a legal one; …the courts know well that among [those acquitted] is a significant proportion – markedly higher than in the un-convicted population at large – who will offend in the future’.
On went Marper to the House of Lords, and was again refused. Privacy International has the full text of the judgment.
Now, though, Marper has got through the first round of an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights and:
That court last month ruled that his case raised serious questions of fact and law that needed to be properly considered by the court.
The short judgment records that since the introduction of the amended power of retention, more than 11,600 offences had been detected, involving more than 7,800 offenders, using DNA evidence that would previously have been removed from the DNA database. However, concerns remain that the retained samples may be used in the future, even if that is not happening now, for purposes beyond identifying and eliminating persons as suspects in particular crimes.
For those of us in England and Wales, Strasbourg’s final judgment is likely to decide whether the National DNA Database contracts, or expands to include all of us.