Criminal Justice (Forensic Evidence and DNA Database System) Bill 2013

PaulConnaughton-2-150x150

Dáil Éireann 9 October 2013

 

Thank you for the opportunity to speak on this Bill.

 

Harnessing scientific developments for the good of society is a key element of scientific advancement and this Bill seeks to do exactly that in compiling a database which will become a key tool in the fight against serious crime.

Just as criminals are keeping abreast of developments in science and technology, so too must police forces and justice enforcement systems.  Ireland is not alone in facing the questions posed by scientific advancement, in fact this Bill will allow the state to meet its obligations under the EU Prum Council decision which allows for comparison between databases compiled by various member states for the purposes of criminal investigation.

In an increasingly globalised world, we have to take on board the ability of criminals to move from one jurisdiction to another and the compilation of a database of key and individual signifiers such as DNA and fingerprints is just one crucial tool in the fight against national and international crime.

Under this Bill, most subjects detained by Gardai in connection with serious crime will have a DNA swab sample taken.  Offenders on the sex offenders register will also have samples taken, but only from the time that the legislation takes effect.  Both children under 14 and vulnerable persons are excluded from the requirement to have samples taken, but this is not the case where such a sample would prove or disprove their involvement in a crime, which I believe to be a sensible measure.

It is interesting to note that the database will also include profiles taken from scenes prior to the enactment of the legislation.  An elimination index will include samples of persons whose work brings them into contact with crime scenes, so Gardai and staff of the Forensic Science Laboratory will have samples taken as part of this database.  I also note that this databank introduces the possibility of establishing the innocence of persons wrongly convicted.

Where possible, profiles will also be compiled in relation to missing persons by using profiles from their relatives, and ill people who are unable to identify themselves will also have samples taken.  There have been a number of cases in recent years where bodies of Irish people who died in the Irish Sea have turned up in Wales and England and it is to be hoped that this database will greatly reduce the extremely stressful time that families of missing people endure while waiting to find out if the deceased person is that of their missing loved one.

Samples taken for the database will be destroyed within six months, but the profile will be retained on the database. I welcome the fact that suspects not convicted can have their DNA profile removed from the database after six years but this provision is subject to the agreement of the Garda Commissioner.

Of course the creation of such a database raises many questions and thus I welcome the significant oversight that is provided for in this Bill, including an Oversight Committee chaired by a judge or former judge of the High Court or Circuit Court.  Such a proviso is, I believe, necessary, to ensure proper oversight of this important database.

It is ten years since the Attorney General requested the Law Reform Commission to consider the establishment of a DNA databank.  The intervening decade has seen many advancements in terms of DNA identification, including a number of high profile cases in Ireland.

Of course, that decade allowed Irish legislators the opportunity to benefit from tests cases taken against such databases in Europe, particularly the case where the European Court of Human Rights found that retention by authorities in England and Wales of profiles of persons subsequently acquitted violated their rights and such decisions were taken into account in the drafting of the Irish legislation.

I know that much consideration has been given to the human rights of the suspects from whom samples are being taken and that is only right and proper, but the real benefit of this database is that it will allow for the detection of the criminals responsible for hitherto undetectable crimes.  Historically in Ireland, how many rapists have got away with their crimes because there was no evidence to link them with their victim?  How many grievous assaults were never properly punished because there was no individual link found between perpetrator and victim?

I sincerely hope that this Bill will result in the detection of many more crimes and perhaps will also prove a deterrent in some cases if a criminal believes that there is an increased likelihood of being apprehended for their crime.

This Bill is at least a decade in the making and I believe that its incorporation into Irish law will represent a significant step forward in the fight against crime in Ireland.