DNA records of innocent people destroyed after privacy complaint

S. and Marper v. the United Kingdom  | 2008

DNA records of innocent people destroyed after privacy complaint

Of particular concern in the present context is the risk of stigmatisation, stemming from the fact that persons in the position of the applicants, who have not been convicted of any offence and are entitled to the presumption of innocence, are treated in the same way as convicted persons.

Judgment of the European Court of Human Rights, 4th December 2008


In 2001, two people from Sheffield – known as S. and Michael Marper – had DNA samples taken by the police after being arrested.

Criminal charges were dropped in both cases, but under British law at the time the police were allowed to keep the DNA samples on record forever. S. and Michael Marper brought a case to the Strasbourg court, arguing that the law breached their right to privacy.

Judgment of the European Court of Human Rights

The Strasbourg court ruled that the blanket and indefinite retention of DNA profiles by the authorities - in cases where a defendant was acquitted or discharged - was a disproportionate interference with their private life. This violated the applicants’ basic rights.


The Protection of Freedoms Act was introduced in 2012 in England and Wales. This established that DNA profiles of innocent people can only be kept in certain circumstances and for limited time. This approach is based on the separate system in Scotland, which was praised by the European court. The Council of Europe continues to monitor this issue, as changes are yet to be introduced in Northern Ireland.

The DNA samples of S. and Michael Marper were destroyed.

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