Use by Historical Investigations Unit of DNA and fingerprints DATA

Date published: 25 June 2015

The Department of Justice has launched a public consultation on a proposal to make available a copy of the DNA and fingerprints databases to the proposed Historical Investigations Unit (HIU) for use in the investigation of Troubles related deaths.

Schedule 2 of the Criminal Justice Act (Northern Ireland) 2013 sets out a new framework for the retention and destruction of DNA and fingerprints taken by police in connection with the investigation of an offence. Under the new rules, a large volume of DNA profiles and fingerprints will require to be deleted from the police databases prior to the legislation coming into operation on 31 October 2015.   

The Department has been alerted to a potential risk that the planned destruction of material under the Act may lead to investigative opportunities being lost to the Historical Investigation Unit (HIU), when established. It is proposed that, before the deletion process takes place, a copy of the police biometric databases will be taken which will be retained and made available to the HIU for its exclusive use.  

Justice Minister David Ford said: “I have given very careful consideration to this proposal to take a copy of the DNA and fingerprints databases for use by the Historical Investigations Unit. It engages significant ECHR issues, but I believe it provides a fair and balanced approach to the risk presented.”

The Department is proposing to make a transitional and saving provision that will give short term statutory cover for the retention and use of material within the copy databases that would otherwise fall to be destroyed under Schedule 2 of the Criminal Justice Act, until 1 May 2017. The intention is to legislate for a longer term provision, in the Stormont House Agreement Bill, that will provide cover for the material until HIU fulfils its future Article 2 responsibilities. The order will limit retention of material on the copy databases to persons born on or before the 10th April 1982 (i.e. aged 16 years or older when the Good Friday Agreement was signed).

David Ford concluded: “This is an important area of public policy and I would encourage all who have an interest to respond to this consultation.”

View the consultation at the consultation section

The closing date for this consultation is 20 August 2015.

Responses or requests for further information should be made in writing to:

Policing Policy and Strategy Division
Police Powers & HR Policy Branch
Department of Justice
Block A, Castle Buildings
Stormont Estate


Notes to editors: 

1.The Department of Justice, Police Service of Northern Ireland and Forensic Science Northern Ireland has been engaged in a complex programme of work to implement the new DNA and fingerprints retention framework set out in Schedule 2 of the Criminal Justice Act (Northern Ireland) 2013. It is anticipated that the legislation will be brought into operation on 31 October 2015.

2.Around 31,000 DNA profiles and 91,000 fingerprints sets will fall to be deleted from the police databases under the new framework. This relates primarily to persons who have been arrested but not convicted. The PSNI is committed to removing this material from its systems before 31 October to ensure compliance with Article 8 ECHR and the European court’s judgment in S & Marper v UK.  

3.There are 977 Troubles related cases which remain partially completed or not commenced on cessation of the work of the Historical Enquiries Team (HET). The copy databases will be for the exclusive use of HIU once it is established and assumes investigative responsibility for these cases. Strict protocols will be put in place to give effect to this.

4.For all media enquiries, please contact the DOJ Press Office on 028 9052 6444. Out of hours, please contact the Duty Press Officer via pager number 07699 715440 and your call will be returned.

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