Drink-driver loses challenge over PSNI keeping DNA profile

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A man convicted of a drink-driving offence has lost a test-case battle at the UK’s highest court over the police retention of his DNA profile.

Supreme Court justices in London rejected an appeal by Fergus Gaughran, who challenged the right of police in Northern Ireland to retain the information indefinitely.

His legal action was originally dismissed at the High Court in Belfast in 2012.

Mr Gaughran was arrested in October 2008. Police lawfully obtained his fingerprints, a photograph and a DNA sample, from which a DNA profile was taken.

He pleaded guilty to the charge of driving with excess alcohol the following month and was disqualified for a year and fined £50.

In 2009 his lawyers requested that his data should no longer be retained, but after receiving no assurance that it would not be kept, judicial review proceedings were launched against the PSNI.

People acquitted of an offence have successfully challenged the lawfulness of indefinite retention of samples.

But the High Court judges dealing with Mr Gaughran’s case said it was the first time the court had been called on to adjudicate on the lawfulness “of the indefinite retention of such data following a conviction for a criminal offence which the applicant alleges to be a relatively minor criminal offence and which he claims is of insufficient gravity to justify indefinite retention of the material”.

Rejecting his case in 2012, the judges found that Mr Gaughran’s right to respect for private life under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) was “engaged”, but the interference with that right was justified. They found that the “policy of indefinite retention is not disproportionate”.

The proceedings before the Supreme Court were concerned only with the retention of Mr Gaughran’s DNA profile, as the PSNI intend to destroy the DNA sample when new legislation comes into force.

The court heard that the PSNI now retains biometric data indefinitely only of those convicted of crimes.

Mr Gaughran’s challenge was dismissed on Wednesday by a majority of four to one. The court ruled that the retention policy was “proportionate”.