Speech on the retention of DNA from those arrested but not charged or convicted

I spoke yesterday on clause 3 of the Protection of Freedoms Bill in committee. It relates to the retention of DNA from those arrested but not convicted. Via Hansard:

Steve Baker: I support the clause. We have heard a great deal this afternoon about balance; in particular, the balance between evidence and principle has come out in hon. Members’ remarks. Consideration of that balance speaks very much to the nature of the clause. A lot of the talk has been about evidence, but it struck me that it has also been a conversation about counterfactuals. How many crimes will we not detect if we adopt the measure? I am not sure how one proves how many crimes have not been detected.

The hon. Member for Darlington complained that the measure might be political and not evidential, and she said it with considerable passion. For me, the hon. Lady ably demonstrated that we have adopted a kind of managerialism on the subject that is not driven by principle. It is a fear of consequences, perhaps, rather than what we stand for fundamentally.

If I remember correctly, the hon. Member for Glasgow North West mentioned the Scottish principle of “not proven”, which I would like to pick up. When the Minister talked about our commitment to innocent until proven guilty, which I welcome and fully support, I was reminded of the hon. Gentleman’s remarks. Pressure groups such as the Adam Smith Institute have written to us on this, and if we adopt the measure, in doing so we somehow pick up the Scottish idea of not proven. We charge someone, they are not convicted and yet we put them under the taint of suspicion by retaining their DNA. The hon. Lady mentioned criminologists and their notion that—forgive me if I misphrase this, I am only an engineer—the fundamental pointer to criminality is having been arrested.

Mrs Chapman: I am not a criminologist either, or a lawyer or an engineer; in fact, I was a housewife before I came here.

Michael Ellis: Nothing wrong with that.

Mrs Chapman: Thank you. The point I made was that arrests were an indicator. There are many indicators, but that is the most reliable one we have.

Steve Baker: I am most grateful to the hon. Lady for that clarification; nevertheless, I say that that principle stands in stark contrast to the notion of innocent until proven guilty.

The clause is a balance. It is already a balance between the principle of innocent until proven guilty and, knowing what the hon. Lady has told us, concern that we might not detect certain crimes. It is by no means a dogmatic application of principle, and I know that many will criticise it, but it heads in the right direction in what I could describe—without wishing to be overly pejorative—as a slightly neurotic atmosphere of concern. I believe that we should go further and be more principled. We should assert innocent until proven guilty. If we were to adopt the Scottish notion of not proven and have people living under the taint of suspicion simply because they had been arrested, I would like us to make that decision plainly and clearly, so that we know what we have adopted. Nevertheless, I shall support the Government.

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