Police may keep DNA of 'criminal' children
POLICE may be allowed to keep the DNA of children who commit violent or sexual crimes, under a move announced yesterday by the Scottish Government.
Kenny MacAskill, the justice secretary, revealed details of a review into the rules governing the retention of DNA for people accused of such crimes.
In Scotland, police are generally only allowed to keep someone's DNA on record if they are convicted of an offence - putting them at odds with police counterparts in England and Wales who are allowed to keep DNA profiles of all people accused of a crime.
In January, Scotland's relatively strict rules were slackened when police were given power to keep DNA profiles of adults accused - but not found guilty - of sexual and violent crimes for up to three years.
Yesterday, Mr MacAskill signalled that the review, to be carried out by Professor James Fraser, head of Strathclyde University's centre for forensic science, could lead to further relaxations in the rules north of the Border.
As well as the question of whether to retain the DNA of children who commit a violent or sexual crime, the review will consider whether fingerprints of people accused of such offences should be kept.
At present, they are destroyed once the person's innocence has been established.
Mr MacAskill said: "Advances in technology have resulted in DNA and other forensic sciences playing an increasing role in the investigation and prosecution of crimes. That is a welcome development.
"However, while we rightly seek to protect the public from criminals, our citizens must also be protected from an over-intrusive state.
"We recognise there remain differences of opinion and we believe there is merit in examining whether there are further changes to the regime that we can ask parliament to consider."
He said the Scottish Government remained against "blanket retention of all forensic information taken from innocent people".
"The new review will focus on individuals who are prosecuted for violent and sexual offences, checking whether the procedures introduced in January are effective and examining also why it should be lawful to allow DNA records to be retained but to require fingerprint records to be destroyed," he said.
DNA retention remains a controversial issue because of concerns over civil liberties. In England, the DNA of more than a million people who have never been convicted of a crime, including children, have been put on file.
Alex Salmond, the First Minister, has already voiced support for looking at the English system. Jack McConnell, former leader of the Scottish Labour Party, said in June it was "unacceptable" that Scottish law offered less public protection than English law.
Paul Martin MSP, Labour's justice spokesman, last night backed retaining the DNA of child offenders.
"It is, if anything, more important that we keep DNA of children who have committed violent or sexual crimes, as it will potentially stop them," he said.
But Helen Walker, director of GeneWatch UK, said: "We would want to see strong evidence that this will actually prevent serious crimes."
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