Case of European Court of Human Rights, December 04, 2008 (case S. and Marper v. the United Kingdom [GC])

Resolution DateDecember 04, 2008

Information Note on the Court’s case-law No. 114

December 2008

S. and Marper v. the United Kingdom [GC] - 30562/04 and 30566/04

Judgment 4.12.2008 [GC]

Article 8

Article 8-1

Respect for private life

Retention of fingerprints and DNA information in cases where defendant in criminal proceedings is acquitted or discharged: violation

Facts: Under section 64 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE), fingerprints and DNA samples taken from a person suspected of a criminal offence may be retained without limit of time, even if the subsequent criminal proceedings end in that person's acquittal or discharge. In the case before the Court, both applicants had been charged with criminal offences but not convicted. The first applicant, an eleven-year-old minor, had been acquitted of attempted robbery while in a separate case proceedings against the second applicant for the alleged harassment of his partner had been formally discontinued after the couple reconciled. In view of the fact that they had not been convicted, the applicants asked for their fingerprints and cellular samples to be destroyed, but in both cases the police refused. Their applications for judicial review of that refusal were rejected in a decision that was upheld on appeal. Giving the lead judgment in the House of Lords, Lord Steyn noted that, even assuming there to have been an interference with the applicants' private life, it was very modest and was proportionate to the aim pursued, as the materials were only to be kept for limited purposes and were of no use without a comparator from the crime scene while an expanded database conferred enormous advantages in the fight against serious crime.

Law: (a) Interference: Given the nature and the amount of personal information contained in cellular samples, including a unique genetic code of great relevance to both the individual concerned and his or her relatives, and the capacity of DNA profiles to provide a means of identifying genetic relationships between individuals or of drawing inferences about their ethnic origin, the retention of both cellular samples and DNA profiles in itself amounted to an interference with the applicants' right to respect for their private lives. While the retention of fingerprints had less of an impact on private life than the retention of cellular samples and DNA profiles, the unique information fingerprints contained about the individual concerned and their retention without his or her consent...

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