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Infringing your rights? Tell that to the victims

26 July 2012

TWO women a week in this country are killed by a former partner.

The British Crime Survey reports that 1.2 million women experience domestic abuse. The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has been making efforts to bring offenders to justice, but it is still the case that, even with cases charged by prosecutors, the conviction rate for rape cases is only 62 per cent, while only six per cent of reported allegations of rape end in conviction. And most incidents of domestic abuse and rape are not even reported to the police.

The chief executive of Refuge, Sandra Horley, describes it as "a very big problem". The Director of Public Prosecutions at the CPS, Keir Starmer, agrees: "I don't quarrel with Sandra's analysis about the nature and scope of the problem."

This is why I think it is time to revisit the question of a universal DNA database. At present, DNA details are taken and kept by the police after a person has been arrested. This database has proved extremely helpful to the police in the solving of crimes, and especially violent crime.

But the existence of this database is often challenged by civil-liberties groups, who argue that it is an infringement of our human rights for the police to hold the DNA of a person who is not eventually convicted of the offence for which they were held. Others argue, rightly, that the arrest-rate of ethic minorities means that the database reflects the effect of racial profiling: 40 per cent of black men are on the database, and only ten per cent of white men.

When we are born, we must have a birth certificate; we are given a National Insurance number, and the rest of it. In the same way, a quick mouth-swab would mean that our DNA profile could be kept securely by the police.

I know that this will have me struck off Shami Chakrabarti's Christmas-card list, but if we did have a universal database, conviction rates for crime - and rape in particular - would soar. And that would inevitably put a huge downward pressure on violence against women.

Some on the Right resist this move, as they feel it would make many innocent people feel like criminals. You can hear the cries of "Snoopers' Charter" and "Big Brother" coming from the Daily Mail. But if we all have to do it, then there is no stigma. And if we don't commit any crime, then we will have nothing to fear.

Of course, that last sentence really does have to be true: the record-keeping has to be secure, and this is, indeed, the big challenge. But given that a universal DNA database would clearly have a significant effect on the crime detection, I think it ought to be taken a great deal more seriously.


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