Fingerprints, Photographs and Samples

Fingerprints, which include palm prints, may be taken from anyone over the age of ten without consent and without a court order in any of the following circumstances:

  • If you have been detained after an arrest for, or been charged with, or informed you will be prosecuted for a recordable offence, and your fingerprints have not already been taken in the course of the investigation.
  • In any of the above circumstances where the fingerprints have been taken before but did not constitute a complete set or were not of sufficient quality.
  • If you have been convicted of a recordable offence or cautioned in respect of a recordable offence you have admitted or been warned or reprimanded under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 for a recordable offence.
  • If you answer to bail at a court or police station, if the court or an officer of at least the rank of inspector believes on reasonable grounds that you are not the same person whose fingerprints were taken on a previous occasion or where you actually claim to be a different person.
Recordable offences are specified in regulations and include all but the most trivial offences.

Where fingerprints are taken without your consent, reasons must be given before they are taken and those reasons must be recorded. Reasonable force may be used. If the police obtain your consent to fingerprinting, it must be in writing if given at a police station. Consent in the case of a child - aged ten to 14 - is the consent of his or her parents alone and in the case of a young adult - aged 14 to 17 - of the parents and him or herself.

Before your fingerprints are taken, with or without your consent, you should be told that they might be the subject of a speculative search. This means that they can be checked against other fingerprints held in records by or on behalf of the police.

Fingerprints taken in connection with immigration cases are subject to separate rules.

Photographs

If you are detained at a police station you can be photographed without your consent and the photographs can be used by, or disclosed to, any person for any purpose related to the prevention or detection of crime, the investigation of an offence or the conduct of a prosecution. This relates to offences in this country or abroad. Any item or substance worn on or over your head or face can be removed and reasonable force can be used, if necessary, to take the photographs.

Intimate and Non-intimate Samples

An intimate sample is a sample of blood, semen or any other tissue, fluid, urine, saliva, pubic hair or a swab taken from a bodily orifice other than the mouth. An intimate sample - other than urine - may only be taken by a doctor, registered nurse or registered health care professional and dental impressions by a registered dentist, and only if an officer of at least the rank of inspector authorises it and you consent to it in writing. Consent for juveniles is the same as for fingerprinting. The authorisation may only be given if the officer has reasonable grounds for believing that the sample will confirm or disprove your involvement in a recordable offence.

If you refuse to consent without reasonable cause the court or jury may - in committal proceedings or at a trial - draw such inferences from the refusal as appear proper, and the refusal may be treated as corroboration of any evidence against you to which the refusal is material. You must be warned of this before being asked to provide such a sample. This provision was inserted with rape suspects in mind.

Also, even if you are not in police detention, if in the course of investigating an offence, the police previously took at least two non-intimate samples from you for the same means of analysis, often DNA, which prove to be insufficient, they can take an intimate sample from you with your written consent.

The provisions for breath tests and blood or urine samples in cases of drunk drivers are quite separate.

A non-intimate sample is a sample of hair other than pubic hair, a sample taken from a nail or from under a nail, a swab taken from any part of a person's body other than an orifice, and a skin impression (except dental impressions). Non-intimate samples may be taken with your written consent (consent for juveniles is the same as for fingerprinting) or without consent if:

  • You are in police detention after an arrest for a recordable offence and have either not had a sample taken already in the course of the investigation or you have but it was insufficient.
  • You are in police detention or being held in custody on the authority of a court and an officer of at least the rank of inspector authorises it. He or she may do this if there are reasonable grounds for believing the sample will confirm or disprove your involvement in a serious arrestable offence. Reasons for taking the sample must be provided to you and recorded.
  • You have been charged with or informed you will be reported with a view to summons for a recordable offence and have either not had a non-intimate sample taken in the course of investigation of the offence or such a sample was taken but it was not suitable or was insufficient for the same means of analysis - often DNA.
  • You have been convicted of a recordable offence.
Speculative searches

The police have powers to take fingerprints and samples to compare with any on their databases. Before such fingerprints and samples are taken, you should be informed that they might be used for such a speculative search.

Destruction of fingerprints and samples

Any fingerprints and samples which are taken from you in the course of an investigation into an offence, other than where you are not a suspect, for instance where you were the victim of a burglary, may be retained by the police for further use in preventing, detecting, investigation and prosecuting offences, whether here or abroad. This applies even if you were acquitted of the criminal offence. The Court of Appeal has held that this does not contravene either Article 8 or Article 14 of the Convention, but an appeal to the House of Lords is pending on this matter. If you were not a suspect then they can be retained if you consent in writing. If you do not consent they must be destroyed.

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