News story

Government sets out case for joining Prüm

The Government has today set out the case for why it believes it is in the UK’s national interest to sign up to the EU-wide Prüm agreement.

James Brokenshire

The government has today set out the case for why it believes the UK should sign up to EU-wide agreements for the rapid and efficient sharing of DNA, fingerprint and vehicle information, to identify foreign criminals, solve serious crimes and protect the public.

The decision, which has the support of law enforcement agencies throughout the UK, follows wide consultation, a detailed examination of the evidence from countries already operating the Prüm agreements and a successful small-scale pilot.

If Parliament votes in favour later this year of the UK signing up to Prüm, the government has confirmed that stringent safeguards will ensure no fingerprint or DNA profiles relating to innocent British citizens will be used in implementing the measures.

Immigration Minister James Brokenshire said:

The extensive evidence presented to us, including that provided by our own law enforcement agencies, offers a clear and compelling case for signing up to the Prüm agreements.

Giving our police access to the tools they need to rapidly and efficiently identify foreign criminals who have committed serious offences in the UK – and detecting crimes which may otherwise go unsolved – will help to keep the public safe and is clearly in the national interest.

Under the agreement, police in the UK will be able to run DNA, fingerprints or vehicle information through other Member States’ databases for the purpose of solving crimes. This will give them access to more than five million fingerprints, DNA profiles and car registration records held across Europe by the Member States which have already signed up to Prüm.

While such information sharing is already possible through existing Interpol processes, Prüm – named after the treaty signed in the German town in 2005 – will speed up the process beyond recognition. It currently takes an average of 143 days for a DNA match to be returned through the Interpol process, compared with just 15 minutes under Prüm. Matches for fingerprints and vehicle registration information will be returned within 24 hours and 10 seconds respectively.

Senior police officers have noted that, in addition to being slow, the existing Interpol processes are cumbersome and labour intensive. As a result, only 69 DNA profiles were sent abroad by UK law enforcement agencies in 2014-15, whereas 9,931 profiles were sent in less than six months using the Prüm-style pilot.

That pilot – under which 2,500 DNA profiles taken from the scenes of unsolved serious crimes in the UK including rape, sexual assault and burglary, were sent to France, Germany, Spain and the Netherlands – has further demonstrated the potential operational benefits of Prüm. It resulted in 118 matches and police are actively pursuing suspects identified through the pilot both inside and outside the UK.

DNA profiles from UK crime scenes have identified “hits” in one country, in two countries and even, in some cases, in three separate countries, indicating organised patterns of offending across borders which could be the subject of a co-ordinated response.

A Command Paper presented to Parliament today has made clear that, if Parliament votes in favour of joining Prüm, significant safeguards will be in place to protect civil liberties.

For example, the government would legislate to ensure that other Member States could only search against the UK-held DNA profiles and fingerprints of those actually convicted of a crime, helping to avoid innocent British citizens being caught up in overseas investigations.

In addition, to address concerns that the scientific quality of DNA matches that can be reported as hits under Prüm is lower than that required for a hit to be reported domestically, the Government will legislate to ensure that we will only provide demographic details if the hit is of a scientific standard equivalent to that required to report a hit to the police domestically in the UK. The chances of such a hit being wrong are less than one in a billion.

Published 26 November 2015