Long announces consultation on biometric proposals

Date published: 03 July 2020

Justice Minister Naomi Long has launched a public consultation to seek views on proposals to further amend the law relating to the retention of DNA and fingerprints in Northern Ireland.

Justice Minister Naomi Long launches consultation on biometrics provisions

The Justice Minister said: “DNA and fingerprints play a valuable role in the detection and investigation of crime. These new proposals amend and supplement existing legislation which, when commenced, will provide the future statutory framework for the retention of biometric data in Northern Ireland. This is an important area of public policy and I would encourage all who have an interest to respond to this consultation.”

All of the proposals will involve changes to the yet un-commenced biometric provisions set out in Schedule 2 of the Criminal Justice Act (Northern Ireland) 2013 (CJA).

The proposals are:

  • To replace the indefinite retention of biometric data of convicted persons within CJA with maximum retention periods based on age and the seriousness of the offence.
  • A regulation making power that will enable the Department to set out in subordinate legislation a review mechanism that will require police to carry out a periodic review of the continued need for biometric data to be retained under these maximum retention periods.
  • A change to the legislation that will enable DNA and fingerprints taken in Northern Ireland to be retained on the basis of a conviction for a recordable offence committed in a country or territory outside the United Kingdom.
  • Provision that will enable DNA and fingerprints taken in connection with an offence that has been ‘left on books’ by a court to be retained for a period of 12 months.
  • To widen the scope of the Northern Ireland Commissioner for the Retention of Biometric Material.

The consultation will run from 3 July to 28 August 2020.

Notes to editors: 

1.  Further information on this consultation, including the full consultation document and ways to respond, can be found on the Department’s website at: Justice-ni/consultations.

2.  Article 64 of the Police and Criminal Evidence (Northern Ireland) Order 1989 (PACE NI) is the current legislation governing the retention of DNA and fingerprints in Northern Ireland. It states that police may retain indefinitely the DNA and fingerprints taken by them in connection with a recordable offence irrespective of whether it results in a conviction.

3.  In May 2013, the Northern Ireland Assembly passed the Criminal Justice Act (Northern Ireland) 2013 (CJA). Schedule 2 of the Act makes provision for a new regime which sets out a series of rules for the retention of DNA and fingerprints taken by police based on the seriousness of the offence, the age of the person from which the material was obtained, whether the person was convicted or not convicted and the person’s criminal history.

4.  To date, it has not been possible for the Department to bring these provisions into operation. This is because under the current provisions of CJA, a large volume of DNA and fingerprints related to non-convicted persons would fall for deletion from police databases. To mitigate against any risk that the deletion of this material could undermine the investigation of unsolved Troubles related deaths in Northern Ireland, a form of statutory provision will be required to provide a lawful basis for deleted material to be retained and used for the purpose of legacy investigations. The Northern Ireland Office published proposals on 18 March 2020 on the way forward to address the legacy of the past in Northern Ireland.

5.  On 13 February 2020, the European Court of Human Rights Court ruled in the case of Gaughran v UK that the policy and practice of the indefinite retention of DNA profiles, fingerprints and photographs of individuals convicted of a criminal offence was a violation of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

6.  The consultation sets out proposals to amend and supplement Schedule 2 of CJA, including corrective measures in response to the Gaughran judgment that will ensure that the future legislation governing the retention of DNA and fingerprints in Northern Ireland is fully ECHR compliant before it is brought into operation.

7.  Media enquiries should be directed to the Department of Justice Press Office

8.  The Executive Information Service operates an out of hours service for media enquiries between 1800hrs and 0800hrs Monday to Friday and at weekends and public holidays. The duty press officer can be contacted out of hours on 028 9037 8110

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