· New DNA Database System will ‘go live’ on 20 November
· Database will greatly assist the Garda Síochána in the investigation of crime
· Innovative intelligence tool will be invaluable in the fight against “volume crime”, such as burglary and theft, as well in the investigation of serious offences against the person
· Database will also be of assistance in finding missing persons and identifying unknown persons
13 November 2015
The Minister for Justice and Equality, Frances Fitzgerald TD, today announced the commencement of DNA legislation and launch of a new state-of-the-art DNA Database System. The database will become operational on 20 November 2015.
The database will be based in Forensic Science Ireland in the Phoenix Park. Welcoming the introduction of such a system for the first time in this jurisdiction, the Minister said: “This is an historic step in criminal investigation in Ireland. The new DNA database is a hugely significant development in assisting the Garda Síochána in the investigation of crime. It is vital that our police force has all it requires, including the most modern technology, to protect the State and its citizens from crime. This high quality intelligence tool will be invaluable in the fight against ‘volume crime’, such as burglary and theft, and also in the investigation of serious offences against the person. The database will also assist in finding and identifying missing or unknown persons. This capability should serve to provide significant assistance, reassurance and solace for the families of people in these situations.”
The launch of the new database follows the recent publication of legislation to tackle repeat home burglars and announcement of the extra resources to be devoted to confronting this scourge under Operation Thor. Garda figures show that 75% of burglaries are committed by 25% of burglars, and Minister Fitzgerald drew particular attention to the role that DNA analysis can play in tackling this kind of ‘volume crime’: “The new system will help the Gardaí to close the net on these serial offenders. The database will be populated with unidentified DNA profiles from crime scenes – these ‘cold case’ profiles can then be matched with DNA profiles uploaded from individuals under criminal investigation, convicted criminals and former offenders, with a view to solving these crimes and securing convictions.”
Highlighting the work undertaken to ensure the necessary practical and technical readiness to operate the database, the Minister said: “I would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the very important, largely unseen work of Forensic Science Ireland, headed up by Dr Sheila Willis. FSI already routinely does DNA testing for the Garda Síochána and has established sophisticated scientific expertise in this area, making it ideally suited to be custodians of this national DNA database. I should also commend the Garda Síochána and Commissioner Noírín O’Sullivan for the preparatory work they have undertaken, including training of individual members and the establishment of a new Forensics Coordination Office.”
An additional sum of €1.3m was allocated to FSI in the recent Budget to meet ongoing staffing needs and the new demands that will be placed on it by the operation of the DNA Database, and the recruitment of additional staff will begin immediately. Funding was also allocated in the recently announced capital expenditure programme to the construction of a purpose-built new laboratory, a project previously cancelled in 2009 as a result of the financial crisis, with building due to commence in 2019. The Minister stated: “It is no secret that a new forensic science laboratory is long-overdue, and I am glad that funding has now been allocated for the construction of state-of-the-art facilities appropriate to Ireland’s needs. Any opportunity to being forward the start date of construction will be taken.”
The DNA database was provided for in the Criminal Justice (Forensic Evidence and DNA Database System) Act, which was enacted last year having received broad support in both Houses of the Oireachtas. This comprehensive piece of legislation provided for the establishment, population, management and oversight of the DNA database and reformed the law governing the taking of samples and the creation of DNA profiles for use in evidence in criminal trials. In addition to its value as an investigatory tool, the database will also contribute towards more effective, targeted policing as Garda resources can be focused on cases involving clear corroborative evidence, with innocent suspects being eliminated from consideration, allowing for more efficient use of policing time.
The Minister stated: “The establishment of a DNA database was a commitment in the Programme for Government and I am pleased to see this initiative now being realised. I know that Forensic Science Ireland and the Garda Síochána have been awaiting the introduction of this new technological development for a long time. Finally bringing this initiative to fruition further demonstrates the Government’s strong determination to tackle crime and to assist the Garda Síochána in protecting the communities they serve.”
Note for Editors:
Minister Fitzgerald has signed an Order setting the date of 20 November 2015 for the commencement of most of the provisions of the Criminal Justice (Forensic Evidence and DNA Database System) Act 2014. The major effect of this will be to launch the DNA Database System on that date.
The DNA Database System
The database was established under the Criminal Justice (Forensic Evidence and DNA Database System) Act 2014 (known as the DNA Act) and is an intelligence resource with two purposes:
(i) to match a DNA profile from an individual to an unidentified crime scene profile obtained in the course of a criminal investigation (and where there is no match to eliminate all individuals on the database as potential suspects) and to match crime scene profiles from different crime scenes;
(ii) to assist with identifying missing and unknown persons (severely ill/injured persons who cannot identify themselves or unidentified human remains).
The database has two divisions, reflecting its functions:
1. an investigation division, and
2. an identification division.
1. The investigation division comprises:
(a) a crime scene index
(b) a reference index, and
(c) elimination indexes.
(a) The crime scene index will contain DNA profiles generated from biological samples lifted from crimes scenes whether before or after the legislation came into force.
(b) The reference index will contain profiles developed from samples taken from
· most suspects (other than children under 14 years and ‘protected persons’) detained by the Gardaí in connection with serious offences - generally offences subject to a sentence of 5 years or more,
· offenders entered on the sex offenders register on, or after, commencement of the legislation,
· offenders subject to a sentence of imprisonment in relation to serious offences on, or after, commencement (whether they are in prison, on temporary release or otherwise),
· some former offenders who are no longer subject to sentence.
While protected persons (persons who do not have the capacity by reason of a mental or physical disability to understand the general nature or effect of the taking of a sample or who cannot indicate (by any means) their consent to the taking of a sample) and suspects under 14 years may not be sampled for the database, they may (as is the case under the current law) be sampled where this is necessary to prove or disprove their involvement in a particular offence, i.e. for evidential purposes.
(c) The elimination indexes will contain the profiles of those who, in an official capacity, attend at crime scenes or who handle crime scene samples. The purpose of such indexes is to ensure that if accidental contamination occurs that it is identified so as to avoid Gardaí wasting time and resources investigating unidentified crime scene profiles which in fact relate to a Garda who investigated the scene or a member of the staff of Forensic Science Ireland (FSI, renamed from the Forensic Science Laboratory under the DNA Act) who examined items taken from the scene.
2. The identification division will contain the missing and unknown persons index which will hold the profiles developed from samples relating to missing persons (for example, clothing), their relatives, from injured / ill persons who are unable to identify themselves and from bodies of unidentified deceased persons.
The DNA Act sets out the searches that may be conducted between the different indexes.
Destruction of samples / removal of DNA profiles from the DNA Database
In relation to the destruction of samples taken from suspects, prisoners etc for the purposes of the database, the DNA Act provides that such samples will be destroyed as soon as the profile has been generated from the sample or within 6 months, whichever is the later. The destruction of these samples will have no effect on the usefulness of the database as it is only the profile that is required for the database.
In relation to persons who are not proceeded against or are not convicted, the Act includes a presumption in favour of the removal from the database of the DNA profiles of such persons subject to the Garda Commissioner having the power to authorise retention on the database where he is satisfied that this is necessary – a statutory test is set out by which the Garda Commissioner will make this decision. His decision will be appealable. The retention periods allowed will be 6 years in the case of adults and 3 years in the case of children.
The arrangements governing the retention of samples taken for evidential purposes include a presumption in favour of destruction of the samples relating to suspects who are not convicted subject to the Garda Commissioner having the power to authorise retention for 12 months (which will be renewable) where he is satisfied that this is necessary – a statutory test is set out by which the Garda Commissioner will make this decision. His decision will be appealable.
The Garda Commissioner will have the option of applying to the District Court to retain profiles on the database beyond the periods mentioned above where he has good reason to do so.
The DNA profiles of persons convicted of serious offences will, of course, continue to be held on the database indefinitely.
Safeguards in the DNA Act - Taking of samples
General safeguards applying to the taking of samples
· The Act specifies general principles to be adhered to when a sample is being taken. For example, samples are to be taken in reasonable privacy and are not to be taken from a person in the presence or view of a person whose presence is not necessary for the purposes of the taking of the sample or required or permitted under the Act.
· The Act sets out in clear terms the information that is to be given to a person before a sample is taken in the case of compulsory samples and before consent is sought in the case of voluntary samples.
· The types of samples that may be taken from persons solely for the purpose of the database are restricted to the least intrusive samples - mouth swabs or plucked head hair - the hairs are to be plucked singly insofar as practicable and no more are to be plucked than is reasonably considered necessary.
· Codes of practice for the purpose of giving practical guidance as to the procedures regarding the taking of samples under the Act have been drawn up by the Garda Síochána, the Ombudsman Commission, the Irish Prison Service and the Irish Youth Justice Service, as is required under the legislation, and will be published.
Additional safeguards in relation to suspects/offenders
· A high offence threshold for the taking of samples from suspects and offenders applies - generally samples may only be taken for the purposes of the database or for evidential purposes in relation to offences having a penalty of 5 years imprisonment or more.
· While in general it is expected that suspects detained in Garda custody will be sampled for the purpose of the database, in order to ensure that the taking of such samples is justifiable and proportionate the Minister has made an Order excluding certain offences, the detection of which, due to their nature, would not be assisted by DNA evidence.
· Where reasonable force may be used to take a sample it requires prior authorisation of an officer of at least Superintendent rank and its use must also be observed by a senior person who has responsibility for determining how many officers are required. It must also be electronically recorded.
Special safeguards for protected persons/children who are suspects
· Protected persons will not be subject to sampling for the purposes of the database - evidential samples may be taken where required.
· Children under 14 years will not be subject to sampling for the purposes of the database - evidential samples may be taken where required. The position with regard to children of 14 years and older is to be reviewed within 6 years.
· Reasonable force may not be used to take a database sample from a child suspect.
· Information is to be given in a language and manner appropriate to the protected person's understanding and is to be age appropriate.
· Provision is made for a person other than a member of the Gardaí to be present when a sample is being taken from a protected person or child - the person may be a parent/guardian/adult relative or a person nominated by the member in charge. Such persons are also to be given the information that is required to be given to the protected person or child.
· Special provision is made in relation to the giving of consent on behalf a protected person/child for the taking of intimate samples (where required for evidential purposes) - in certain circumstances a District Court order may be sought to authorise the taking of an intimate sample.
· In general the consequence of refusing to consent to the taking of an intimate sample is that an adverse inference may be drawn in subsequent proceedings - this consequence does not arise in the case of protected persons or, for the most part, in the case of children.
Safeguards in the Act around the DNA Database itself
· The purposes of the database are set out clearly in the Act in order to counter any possibility of 'function creep'.
· The searches that may be conducted between different categories of profiles entered in the database are specified to ensure that a profile is used only for the purpose for which it was taken.
· The management and operation of the database is to be subject to independent oversight by a statutory committee for the purpose of ensuring its integrity and security.
· The Oversight Committee will be chaired by a former judge of the Circuit Court and will include a representative of the Data Protection Commissioner.
· The Committee may make recommendations to the Director of FSI or the Minister as regards the management and operation of the database.
· The Committee may, on its own volition, conduct reviews of any aspect of the management and operation of the database.
· The Minister can also instruct the Committee to review any matter relating to the database.
· The Committee's reports are to be submitted the Minister and are to be laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas and published - subject to certain restrictions in the interests of national security, the security of the database, criminal investigations and to avoid infringing the constitutional rights of any individual.
· Disclosure of information relating to biological samples or information on the database is a criminal offence triable summarily or on indictment.
Codes of Practice
The Act requires that Justice agencies empowered to take samples must prepare a code of practice to provide practical guidance as to the procedures involved. The following agencies will have such codes:
· Garda Síochána
· Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission
· Irish Prison Service
· Forensic Science Ireland
· Irish Youth Justice Service.
These Codes of Practice which will be made publicly available when the database is formally launched on 20 November.