Lord Taylor of Warwick

Criminal Evidence (Amendment) Bill

Noble Lords will be aware of the horrific rape and murder of 15-year-old Naomi Smith and the part that DNA played in securing the recent conviction of her killer, Edwin Hopkins. This Bill has the potential to make a significant impact on the fight against crime. Its central purpose is to add the DNA profiles of some 7,750 serious violent sex and burglary offenders who are currently serving prison sentences or are detained under Part III of the Mental Health Act to the national DNA database. All those offenders will have been convicted before 10th April 1995 and therefore escaped the operation of the new powers to take non-intimate samples from convicted persons introduced by the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. A number of these people might well, if tested for inclusion on the DNA register, prove to have been involved in other as vet unsolved crimes.

The immediate origins of this Bill are to be found in the Government’s consultation document, published in June 1996, on the sentencing and supervision of sex offenders. That consultation document sought views on a number of proposals designed to improve the protection of the public from sex offenders and to enhance opportunities for the treatment of such offenders. The Bill would implement one of those proposals.

Convicted sex offenders have often established a pattern of repeat offending. Research has shown that, when interviewed under confidential conditions, men convicted of rapes have, on average, confessed to having carried out six or even seven rapes as well as other less serious sexual offences. However, the median figure was much lower at one or two rapes, which suggests that a small number of offenders may be responsible for a much larger proportion of sexual offences.

Given that incidence of repeat offending, it is clear that DNA profiling can make an important contribution towards increasing the number of convictions for serious sexual crime. The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 extended the circumstances in which the police could take samples for DNA profiling purposes from persons under investigation for a recordable offence. It also created a new power to take such samples from persons charged with or convicted of these offences.

Crucially, however, the power to take samples from convicted offenders applied only to those convicted on or after the coming into force of the relevant provisions of the 1994 Act; that is, on 10th April 1995.

The Government’s consultation document proposed taking these existing powers one step further. In particular, it proposed that the power be extended to enable the police to take samples for DNA profiling purposes from all sex offenders who were sentenced to imprisonment before the implementation of the 1994 Act and who are still in custody. Such a measure would deter those prisoners from reoffending on release and aid their detection if the deterrent failed. This proposal in the consultation document received widespread support. I understand that the Home Office has received 74 responses, of which 82 percent. were in support.

I believe that it is equally important for the police to have the power to take a DNA sample from persons who have been convicted of violent and burglary offences. We should take all reasonable measures to assist the police to prevent and detect such crimes. DNA profiling and the DNA database have proved their worth not just in relation to sexual offences but also in relation to violent crimes and burglary. With all those crimes, it is not uncommon for an offender to leave behind a blood, semen, saliva or other body sample which can subsequently be used to link him to the scene of the crime. Indeed, it is those three broad categories of offence which the police service has targeted when building up the DNA database.

The Bill will build on the tremendous success of the DNA database so far. It now contains more than 110,000 samples from suspected and convicted offenders and some 8,900 crime-scene stain profiles. Matches which either link suspects to crime scenes or one crime scene to another are occurring at the rate of 100 per week. To date, nearly 3,300 matches have been achieved.

As I mentioned, the core of this Bill is the extension of the power of the police to take DNA samples from persons convicted before 10th April 1995 of a sexual, violent or burglary offence and who are still imprisoned or detained under the Mental Health Act. That is covered in Clause 1.

Clause 2 enables DNA samples to be taken from certain other detained mentally disordered offenders. Not all such offenders will have been convicted of an offence but will instead have been found either not guilty by reason of insanity or unfit to plead. It is appropriate that the police should have power to take DNA samples in such cases, as in the case of convicted offenders.

Clause 3 enables the powers to take DNA samples from detained mentally disordered offenders and juvenile offenders to be exercised in the place of detention. That mirrors an existing provision in Section 63A of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 which enables the police to take samples in prisons.

Clause 4 is a tidying-up measure. The new Section 63A of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, inserted by the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act, omitted to impose a time limit on the exercise of a constable’s 107 power to require a person informed that he will be reported for a recordable offence to attend a police station so that a non-intimate sample may be taken. Clause 4 corrects that omission by imposing a time limit of one month.

Schedule 1 lists the sex, violence and burglary offences which determine that a detained person may have a DNA sample taken from him under the provisions of Clauses 1 and 2.

Finally, Schedule 2 reproduces Sections 63 and 63A of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act as further amended by this Bill. That will be a welcome point of reference, particularly for lawyers— and I am sure that we all have sympathy for lawyers.

In conclusion, this is an important Bill. At the heart of it is the simple objective of protecting society from serious sex and violent offenders. The purpose of the Bill is to build upon the successes already achieved through DNA. Brian and Catherine Smith lost their only daughter, Naomi, at the hands of a sadistic killer, but with the help of DNA testing he was caught and convicted. Accordingly, I commend this Bill to your Lordships’ House.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Lord Taylor of Warwick.)

The Bill is designed to protect the public. I am glad that it appears to receive support from all sides of the House. I commend the Bill to your Lordships. 10 February 1997