Madeleine – DNA in Portugal

Portugal was allegedly the last country in Europe to establish a national DNA database.

The relevant law was number 5 of 2008, coming into effect on 12 Feb 2008.

That was the date at which it became legal to keep a DNA database, but it was not the date at which a DNA database was kept.

The INML was to be the keeper of the national database.

A news report dated Nov 2009 said the database was completely empty, without a single entry, while the INML had received just 23 requests to provide matches.

The law relating to who went on the database was criticised as being too restrictive.

A side issue was volunteers, who could go on but take themselves off as they pleased. Another was civil cases (paternity). These peripheral issues would come to form only a small proportion of the data registered.

The core was those on it with criminal convictions. This was restricted to those people getting a sentence of 3 years or more, hence most criminals could never appear. Such an entry was not automatic. It required a specific order from a judge to make it happen, and in the formative years this was very much the exception.

Further, unlike the UK, it is not once on, always on. Criminal records in Portugal get expunged after specific periods of time, and whenever a criminal record was expunged, it was mandatory to remove the related DNA entry from the INML database.

By mid-Feb 2012, the national database stood at precisely 395 entries in total (criminal in the main, but also volunteer and civil). This was the date at which a major Portuguese news source reported the first successful use of the database in a criminal case. An offender was tracked via DNA in a theft case.

This case was then used by the police and related authorities to ‘advertise’ to judges the benefits of ordering DNA samples in cases of convictions for 3 years or more.

By the end of March 2015, the database had grown to 5,393 entries.

Finally, the law states that arguidos can be compelled to give DNA, even if this requires force. I do not have any information as to whether this is routine procedure or not. Essentially, two more checks exist. The authorities cannot use this (arguido) DNA in another case, and the DNA evidence is removed when the arguido status is lifted.

I do not know whether or not the INML routinely checks new convictions against outstanding cases.

This information has clear and obvious implications in the Madeleine McCann case, both on the chances of success in the original PJ investigation, and in the current Scotland Yard operation.


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