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Crime: Rape

Volume 689: debated on Tuesday 6 February 2007

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

To what extent DNA and other forms of personal identification could be retained and of assistance in the identification of false accusers in rape investigations.

My Lords, DNA and fingerprint evidence can be retained only if the complainant gives written consent. There are no plans to compel the complainant in relation to any crime to agree to the retention of any such material. In my view, it would be quite wrong to do so.

My Lords, is not one of the lessons that we learn from the Warren Blackwell case that, by changing their names, false accusers can hide their identity? In the light of that, why cannot we give judges in the trial court and in the Court of Appeal, where a prosecution for perjury is inappropriate perhaps for reasons of ill health, the right to order that false accusers’ DNA is not only taken but retained to help the police at an early stage in future rape inquiries?

My Lords, I think that I have said in this House probably three times already that, following the Warren Blackwell case and what the Court of Appeal said, the law is being reviewed by Ministers. But I have to say this about the idea that a complainant should be required to give their DNA and fingerprints and have them retained: at a time when we are seeking to encourage victims of crime to come forward, nothing could be more likely to discourage people from doing so than suggesting to them that they should be treated like criminals by having their fingerprints and DNA put on the national database.

My Lords, is the noble and learned Lord suggesting that, once a DNA sample has been taken, it is thrown away?

My Lords, in relation to those who give DNA voluntarily—for example, victims of crime may be asked for a swab to be taken so that the DNA profile can be analysed in order to identify someone else and to eliminate that person from the case—the DNA is not put on to the national database unless that person gives express written consent to that effect. I am sure that that is right.

My Lords, did my noble and learned friend read the report in last Thursday’s Guardian, in which it was said,

“Research published yesterday by the Crown Prosecution Service … and Home Office Inspectorates estimates that of the 50,000 rapes thought to occur each year, between 75% and 95% are never reported. And almost a third of reported cases recorded by police as ‘no crime’ should have been properly investigated as rape”?

Are those not the real concerns that we should have about the problems of rape, and do they not rather overwhelm the sort of statistic that my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours continues to bring back to this House?

My Lords, I agree with my noble friend that the real and very serious problem is the number of people who suffer serious crime—and it is a serious crime—but do not have the confidence to come forward and report it. We need to deal with that. Of course one miscarriage of justice is one too many, but it is very important that we do not discourage other victims of crime from coming forward.

My Lords, does the noble and learned Lord agree that his Answer is rather surprising, because it goes against Part 3 of the Serious Crime Bill, which we will debate tomorrow and which will introduce a power to database-mine all the databases that people have in this country? Does he think that something of this sort is along the lines that the Government already propose?

My Lords, I do not think that my Answer was at all surprising. I would expect the majority of Members, if not the entirety of this House, to agree that if someone comes forward as a victim of crime—a complainant—and gives their DNA or fingerprints, that should not be compulsorily retained.

My Lords, my noble and learned friend is concerned essentially about the low conviction rate. We all want more guilty men to go to prison; they should be in prison, and we want the conviction rate to go up. Is it not about time that we revisited the law? Increasingly, both in here and outside in the country, more and more anomalies in the law are being reported.

My Lords, I am not sure that I know precisely what my noble friend has in mind. He will be aware of two things. First, as has already been referred to, a recent important joint report by the inspectorates of the Crown Prosecution Service and Her Majesty’s constabulary has looked at the way in which rape cases in particular are dealt with by the police and the prosecutors. Secondly, he will be aware that the Government issued a consultation paper at the end of last year; the Government are now considering the responses, which ask questions about whether aspects of the law should be changed in this field.

My Lords, the noble and learned Lord quite rightly condemns the taking of DNA from people who should not give it, so why is it that the DNA base has increased enormously and contains the DNA records of a lot of people who have not been charged with anything? Is that not against our traditional British liberties?

My Lords, the noble Earl needs to distinguish two categories of person. One category is of people who are charged, or arrested and sometimes charged or sometimes not, sometimes prosecuted, sometimes acquitted or sometimes convicted of a crime. The category about which I am talking is of persons who have come forward as complainants, saying, “I have been the victim of a crime”. Their DNA and fingerprints may be taken. I simply say, and I stand by this, that it should not be compulsory for those to be retained. If those people wish to consent to that, they may do so.