In a landmark decision which balanced the welfare of children against the privacy rights of individuals, the High Court has ordered the Metropolitan Police to hand over DNA profiles gleaned from a crime scene – so that it can be determined once and for all whether a convicted murderer is the father of his victim’s children.
The murderer had slaughtered the children’s mother in a bloody attack and had tried to slash his own wrists with a knife. Despite insisting that he is the father of his victim’s orphaned children, the life sentence prisoner had refused to take a paternity test, leaving them in emotional limbo.
The children’s guardian had applied to the Court for an order requiring police to hand over DNA profiles – extracted from blood found at the scene of the murder – so that the truth or falsity of the killer’s claim to paternity could be decisively determined.
The application was resisted by the murderer, the Metropolitan Police and the Home Secretary, who argued that disclosure would undermine the integrity of the police DNA database and breach rules governing the treatment of such information. It was submitted that evidence gathered for one purpose – the detection of crime – should not be disclosed for another, such as establishing paternity.
The President of the Family Division, Sir James Munby, accepted that DNA samples and information derived from them should be afforded a ‘high degree of protection’ and that any use of such material without consent ‘requires the imposition of robust and effective safeguards’.
However, in granting the order sought by the guardian, he said, “In addition to all the usual arguments based on a child’s right to know their paternity, one cannot ignore the enormous implications for these children of what happened to their mother. Their futures will be indelibly marked by it.
“They need to know if the man who murdered their mother, the man who they believe to be their father, is in truth their father. In these circumstances, the balance comes down in favour of the children…the criminal justice policy arguments are weighty… (but) the interests of the children are compelling.”