Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes?

Lord Justice Sedley
Deranged LunaticLord Justice Sedley
It was with deep revulsion I heard the vile ramblings of Lord Justice Sedley on the subject of the DNA database. The attitudes of some whose role place our fundamental freedoms at the heart of their thinking is becoming extremely troubling to say the least, and once again raises questions over how the judiciary can enter into a public debate without the slightest semblance of accountability.

For those who missed the deranged justice's ramblings, a precis of his theory is as follows.

  • DNA evidence makes it possible to convict more criminals, which is a good thing, but...

  • There are a disproportionate number of black males on the database, which is a bad thing, therefore...

  • Every man, woman and child in the country, including those on even the shortest of visits should be recorded, to make it 'fair' and destigmatise being on the database.
His reasoning for recording everyone's DNA is a logical absurdity of course. Pretty much anyone who gets arrested these days has a DNA sample taken and thereupon end up on the database in perpetuity. If proportionately more black males are on the database than white males this must be because more black men proportionately are being arrested; this may represent an unacceptable state of affairs or it may reflect valid police actions, but it matters not when it comes to rubbishing Sedley's perverted ideas.

As for the stigmatising aspect, yes I would agree there is a stigma attached to being on the database. If you have been convicted of a crime you deserve the stigma. If you are an innocent person against whom no case in law has been proved you do not, and you should be removed from the database. Simply making sure that every person in the country is on the database does not remove the stigma of being treated by the state as a potential criminal in the making.

What next? Going to prison stigmatises, so shall we make everyone spend a token day in prison (if we had the space) to remove that stigma so those that have served their time may have a chance for an easier fresh start?

The government has rejected the idea, however not in the most reassuring of manners, the BBC reports:
Home Office Minister Tony McNulty said there were no plans to introduce DNA profiling for everyone in the UK, but "no-one ever says never".

"We're broadly sympathetic to the thrust of what he is saying. [The idea] has logic to it, but I think he's underestimating the practical issues, logistics, civil and ethical issues that surround it," he said.

Source: BBC News

There are 'practical issues, logistics, civil and ethical issues' that surround ID cards and the National Identity Register, and the new NHS IT systems, but this has not dampened this authoritarian governments enthusiasm for treating us all as little more than state property, even if, especially in the case of the former, the benefits of their expensive schemes are limited in the extreme.

There is also an unhelpful contribution from an Association of Black Police Officers spokesman supporting Sedley's brainless position, equally devoid of any serious analysis of the situation he calls 'unacceptable'.

North of the border, the SNP led government, my attitude toward which swings from admiration to disgust on an almost daily basis, is on this subject on the side of the angels, as is often the case when it comes to individual liberties. Again, the BBC reports:
A spokesman for the Scottish Government said: "On 26 June, the justice secretary Kenny MacAskill announced a review of DNA retention in Scotland.

"In announcing the review, Mr MacAskill said that blanket retention was unacceptable in the relationship between the citizen and state.

"The review is expected to begin very shortly."

Source: BBC News

In Scotland, DNA samples taken when people are arrested must be destroyed where no conviction is obtained or no charges laid, with a very limited exception for certain violent crimes. This is a much more satisfactory system, one where people will feel happy to volunteer samples when it may be appropriate in the course of a criminal investigation, knowing that their genetic blueprint will not become state property for ever and all time.

Leaving aside the consideration of whether a true presumption of innocence can exist once a DNA match is made, rightly or wrongly with an individual, does more DNA data mean for a safer society anyway? Have speed cameras made the roads significantly safer? The evidence is equivocal at best. I'm not convinced that having yet more police officers trawling computer databases is the way we want to go, when the day to day crime that blights peoples lives needs more officers on the street to address.

Lord Justice Sedley should take a moment to look at some of the magnificent declaration of his predecessors in defending the rights of the individual against the state, and pause to consider whether he is fit to stand in their shoes. Then, perhaps if he finds himself in an empty room with a shotgun, he could do the decent thing, and make his own personal contribution to the liberty of the British people.

Update 6:00PM: I was surprised nobody had really sunk their teeth into Sedley's suggestion, but it looks like my news feed was just a little delayed, as Thunder Dragon is breathing fire. In his post he highlights the following positive statement from David Davis, the shadow home secretary:
"The erratic nature of this database means that some criminals have escaped having their DNA recorded whilst a third of those people on the database - over a million people - have never been convicted of a crime...

"It is long past time that the Government answered our calls for a Parliamentary debate about this database and to put it on a statutory basis."

Source: The Daily Telegraph

David Davis once again proves that is possible to have a tough attitude to crime, while maintaining a genuine concern for the liberties of the individual.

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