I know we do not have a huge turnout for this legislation. It is important but I do not think it is controversial, which may explain why there is not a strong Opposition presence here. I am pleased to present this Bill to the House. While technical, it is important legislation. The principal purpose of this Bill is to provide for members of the Military Police to take and use DNA samples and other evidence for the purposes of its investigations, including outside the jurisdiction when Defence Forces personnel are deployed overseas.
The Military Police, a service corps within the Defence Forces headed by the Provost Marshal, conducts criminal investigations concerning persons subject to military law. The investigative capabilities of the Military Police are currently compromised by the lack of a comprehensive statutory basis for the taking of evidentiary samples. This Bill will remedy this situation and enhance the capability of the Military Police to carry out its investigations of serious offences.
The Bill provides that DNA samples may be taken when a person subject to military law is placed in service custody by the Military Police in connection with a relevant offence. The Bill also provides for the establishment of a DNA (Military Police) database system, to be administered by Forensic Science Ireland, to hold DNA profiles generated from DNA samples taken under this legislation.
The Bill closely mirrors the Criminal Justice (Forensic Evidence and DNA Database System) Act 2014, which provides for the taking of DNA samples by An Garda Síochána and for the establishment of a DNA database system with a view to assisting An Garda Síochána in the investigation of serious crime. Some necessary adaptations were required to take account of the military environment. However, the safeguards provided for in the 2014 Act regarding the taking of samples from persons have been incorporated in this Bill. In other words, we are simply giving Military Police the same powers that An Garda Síochána already has and uses.
The Bill also sets out the other powers of the Military Police when a member of the Defence Forces is placed in service custody. These powers, including the power to search and take fingerprints, are similar to the powers of An Garda Síochána in relation to a person who is arrested and detained.
A feature of the Bill is that DNA profiles generated from samples obtained under this Bill may be compared with DNA profiles held on the DNA database established under the Criminal Justice (Forensic Evidence and DNA Database System) Act 2014. The comparison will be carried out by Forensic Science Ireland.
I now come to the detailed provisions of the Bill, which is divided into 12 Parts. Part 1 includes standard provisions relating to the Short Title and definitions and clarifies the application of the Bill to a person subject to military law, including when any such person is for the time being outside the State or on board a ship or aircraft.
Part 2 deals with the taking of samples from persons in the custody of the Military Police for entry onto the DNA (Military Police) database system, as well as the taking of intimate and non-intimate samples. Any samples taken under this Part may only be taken in connection with the investigation of what is called a "relevant offence". For the purposes of this Bill, this means an offence for which a person subject to military law may be punished by imprisonment for a term of five years or more, for example, serious assault or murder. In other words, this is only being used in serious cases. The results of the forensic testing of a sample taken under this Part, and any DNA profile generated from any such sample, may be used in court martial proceedings. Provision is made for the retaking of samples in certain circumstances, such as where the original sample proves to be insufficient or is inadequately labelled.
Section 12 specifies the persons who are authorised to take intimate samples. Due to the nature of an intimate sample, the consent of the person in service custody must be obtained before any such sample is taken. Section 13 deals with the inferences a court martial may draw from a refusal to consent, or a withdrawal of consent, to the taking of an intimate sample.
Section 15 allows for the use of reasonable force in the taking of a non-intimate sample. In other words, we are asking people to co-operate with a process, and if they do not, then a judge will draw a conclusion for that. However, the use of this power is subject to a number of safeguards as specified in this section. Specifically, the use of reasonable force must be authorised by a member of the Military Police not below the rank of commandant. In addition, the taking of a sample pursuant to this section must be recorded by electronic or similar means. The provisions of this Part are similar to the equivalent provisions in the Criminal Justice (Forensic Evidence and DNA Database System) Act 2014, that is, they are the same standards the Garda applies.
Part 3 deals with the taking of samples from Defence Forces personnel and other persons to ascertain whether such persons have contaminated a crime scene sample.
Part 4 provides that the Military Police may request a person, referred to in the Bill as a "volunteer", to have a DNA sample taken from him or her for the purpose of generating a DNA profile in relation to the investigation of a particular offence against military law. A volunteer may include a person who is a victim, or reasonably considered to be a victim, of the alleged offence which is being investigated by the Military Police. The taking of a sample under this Part is subject to a number of safeguards, including a requirement to obtain the written consent of the volunteer. Where a person subject to military law refuses to give consent to the taking of a sample under this Part, then that refusal shall not of itself constitute reasonable cause for a member of the Military Police to suspect that person of committing the offence concerned for the purpose of arresting and placing that person in service custody.
Part 5 provides for the establishment by the director of Forensic Science Ireland, FSI, of a DNA (Military Police) database system. The system, which will be similar to the DNA database system established under the Act of 2014, will be used to contain DNA profiles generated from DNA samples taken under this Bill. The Part details the structure of the DNA (Military Police) database system, such as the various indexes which will be contained within the system.
Section 30 sets out in detail the functions of the director of FSI arising under this Part. Section 32 outlines the various comparisons that may be carried out by the director of FSI using DNA profiles entered onto the DNA (Military Police) database system, including comparisons with DNA profiles entered on the DNA database system established under the Act of 2014.
Part 6 outlines the powers of the Military Police in relation to the collection of evidence, other than evidence collected under Part 2 of this Bill for the purposes of DNA testing, from a person arrested by the Military Police and placed in service custody.
Part 6 also has detailed provisions for the destruction, after specific time periods, of evidence obtained under section 34 and provides for the analysis of fingerprints taken from persons in service custody.
Part 7 deals with the destruction, after specific time periods, of samples taken for the purposes of the Military Police DNA database system and the removal from that database system of DNA profiles generated from such samples. It also provides for the extension, in certain circumstances for the specific periods, of the retention period for such samples and associated DNA profiles.
Part 8 sets out the offences arising under this Bill and the penalties that may be imposed for such offences.
Part 9 provides that the Minister for Defence shall, not later than six years after commencement of this Bill, review the operation of certain aspects of Parts 6 and 7 of the Bill and thereafter conduct similar reviews at such times as the Minister considers appropriate. Following any review, the Minister may, by ministerial order, reduce the period for the retention of evidence obtained under these Parts. In other words, there are reviews built into this legislation.
Part 10 provides that the provost marshal shall, following consultation with Forensic Science Ireland, prepare a code of practice to provide practical guidance to members of the Military Police in relation to the taking of samples for DNA testing under this Bill. This code of practice will help to ensure consistency in approach between this legislation and the 2014 Act. This Part also includes miscellaneous provisions, such as the delegation by the provost marshal of the functions assigned to him or her under this Bill to members of the Military Police, the making of regulations for the taking of samples and procedures, and for the transmission of samples for forensic testing.
Part 11 sets out minor amendments to the Act of 2014 which are required on foot of this Bill. The amendments have two principle purposes. First, the functions of the DNA database system oversight committee established under Part 9 of the Act of 2014 will be extended to cover the Military Police DNA database system. Second, amendments are being made to Part 12 of the Act of 2014 which implements, among other matters, the DNA and fingerprint data aspects of European Council Decision 2008/615/JHA, known as the Prüm decision, into Irish law. The Prüm decision contains provisions concerned with the stepping up of cross-border co-operation, particularly in combating terrorism, cross-border crime and illegal migration. These amendments to the Act of 2014 apply the provisions contained in that Act regarding the reciprocal searching of DNA databases and automated fingerprint identification systems maintained by states for criminal investigation purposes to any DNA or fingerprint data obtained by the Military Police in the course of their investigations. This is, in other words, sensible data sharing.
Part 12 sets out technical amendments to the Defence Act 1954 and the Courts-Martial Appeals Act 1983. The primary purpose of these amendments is to provide that a summary court-martial may deal with applications concerning various matters arising under this Bill.
In conclusion, I am pleased to submit this technical but important legislation for the consideration of the House. I commend the Bill to the House.
In short, this is just about applying the standards that the Garda currently uses to the Military Police to ensure that they can efficiently conduct investigations that, of course, respect people's privacy, but at the same time use DNA and a DNA database to good effect. It makes a lot of sense. For what it is worth, we did not have any amendments in the Dáil on this issue. There was, in general, cross-party support for what we are doing.