16 April 2009

Prof Jeffries - I Agree It's Unfair.

Professor Sir Alec Jeffreys - the inventor of genetic fingerprinting thinks it unfair that some people are on the DNA database while others are not.

His crucial remark is in reply to the fact that keeping aquitted people on the database does help solve crimes;
"If you just dumped a few hundred thousand people at random on the database you would get the same effect

I completely agree with this - it is unfair that some people are on the database and others are not because some rapists and murderers will be caught and others will escape merely because they have had no previous contact with police - which could be more about the prejudices of police and societal actions rather than individual actions.

The argument is that those arrested and aquitted are an unrepresentative section of the population who are being 'punished' by having their details held despite not being convicted of any crime.

It is certainly correct that the prejudices of society can decide who ends up on the database. But if we follow this logic through shouldn't convicted criminals also have their details relinquished? Because they too tend to over-represent certain groups.

It seems to me what is unfair is that some people are treated differently to others and if we are to have a DNA database at all and be fair to all then we have to put EVERYONE on it.

We have to look at this new technology as we would any other technology - we wouldn't say we will only consult mobile phone evidence or CCTV evidence for people who have previous. The fact is we don't know who is going to be guilty and who isn't by their previous actions - that is prejudging people, i.e. prejudice. The only way around this is to treat everyone the same and have everyone on the DNA register.

The other concerns of Prof Jeffries relate to other matters. Of course it is a scandal if people are not allowed a re-test to confirm results - there will obviously be mistakes on the database and also with testing. And of course, as I always state - DNA is only one avenue of evidence and not conclusive, it needs to be backed up with other evidence. None of this affects the argument about who should be on the database and who shouldn't.

Finally if there is a 'stigma' about being on the database, of being 'branded as criminal', surely if everyone was on it, rather than just convicted criminals and those unfortunate enough to be picked on by police when completely innocent of any crime, then surely any stigma would disappear.

There is one thing that would be certain, if everyone was on the database - there would be less rapists and murderers going unpunished and more innocent people set free.

I sometimes suspect that opposition to the DNA database has more to do with the fact that middle class people and people of 'standing' will be treated the same as the rest of us plebs, rather than anything to do with real civil liberties.

If you look at cases - even the very first case showed that the person the police wanted to 'fit up' for the crime was proved innocent by DNA evidence and someone who was completely unsuspected was found. Putting everyone on the database is more likely to prove innocence and bring the actual culprits to justice. What is wrong with that?


  1. There is one thing that would be certain, if everyone was on the database - there would be less rapists and murderers going unpunished and more innocent people set freeIn fact, if every person were on the database, false positives would be legion and the police would stop using DNA evidence as juries would start refusing to convict on the basis of DNA evidence. If you want to kill the usefulness of DNA as crime investigation tool, put every one on the database.

  2. stephen, if you are right about false positives then putting everyone on the database would be a public service and save plenty of innocent from going to jail. However, i doubt you are right, just another tale to scare us.

  3. What;s the point of debating with someone who takes pride in his own ignorance. But what's the point? You've lost the argument in the ECHR. Next year you'll lose the election and we'll revert to the Scottish system of managing the DNA database. And how long do you think your creepy fascistic ID Card project is going to last with even rats like Stephen Byers calling for its scrapping?

  4. Stephen, I think you have won the argument with ID cards - whatever their merits (and I still think in theory there are plenty), we cannot introduce them without wholehearted public support which this unpopular government has not got.

    You guys will be moaning twice as loud after a few years of the Tories - just you wait, they will poke into areas of our lives you can't even imagine. I remember Thatcher and no-one was worse at curtailing our freedoms.

  5. "I remember Thatcher and no-one was worse at curtailing our freedoms."

    You are quite correct, Blair and Brown have been much better at it.

  6. falco, v.funny. But i feel far safer and freer now than i did in the 80s and early 90s.

  7. Sorry, I just couldn't resist.

    However, if you "feel safer and freer" now that you can be held for longer without charge etc, etc, then you are very much in the minority and I find your reasoning curious to say the least.

  8. i know youth get bad press, but i have noticed on average an improvement in most kids manners. I remember being genuinely afraid of being attacked growing up in the 80s. The police had even less constraints on their thuggish behaviour and stabbings and kickings, muggings etc were more common then. Did you know that in most countries you can be held indefinitely by the police before they have to charge you. In the uk only a handful have been held longer than a few days at most.

  9. Its hardly a shock that as an teenage bloke you feared attack, you were in the highest risk sector of the population.

    The police have less constraints on their behavior now in many ways and the fact that many other countries have an insane police system is no argument for moving toward one.

    I do not fear the public and I very seldom have in the past, (as above, all young men are bound to have the odd problem), but I do fear the state. We must hold onto our liberties, they are the only defence we have against "legitimate" force.

  10. You guys will be moaning twice as loud after a few years of the Tories - just you wait, they will poke into areas of our lives you can't even imagineIf so then then it will be an historical failure by the Labour party to turn some of its most staunch supporters into enemies by passing illiberal legislation.

  11. or an inability of those supposed supporters to think long term.

  12. Strange, I wasn't a 'supposed' supporter when I voted for your party. Your remarks are typical of many tribal Labourites I have met. Your party expects loyalty without giving anything in return.

    I have no doubt that we will start seeing articles urging social liberals, such as myself, to vote Labour, because the party 'needs' us. The party didn't seem to need us when it was insulting us as 'objective supporters of crime' for opposing its illiberal legislation. Your party can't insult and slander people and then demand their support when you need it. It's arrogant and stupid. Labour pursued these policies to attract votes from the right. Fine. I suggest Labour urges them to support you. Why should I remain loyal to a party that wants to put me in prison for not getting an ID Card or for looking at an Islamicist web site?

  13. Stephen: I understand your frustrations (I share them). But it is not Labour that needs your vote, it is the people who will suffer under the new breed of social conservative, anti-democratic and illiberal Tory MPs that are about to get elected in large numbers if people do not vote Labour.