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Report No. 87

III. History of English law

History.- The present law on the subject of fingerprints has developed gradually and through stages. In the case of convicted criminals, section 6(6) of the Prevention of Crimes Act, 1871 (34 and 35 vict., Chapter 112) authorised the making of regulations for the photographing of criminals. The Penal Servitude Act added measurements to photography, and extended the Regulations made under the Act of 1871 so as to cause them to apply to "all prisoners who may for the time being be confined in any prison."

Provision was made for fingerprinting1 in the Regulation of 1896 applying to criminal prisoners2. A person on remand in custody or a convicted prisoner could be measured, photographed and fingerprinted. The only difference between persons on remand and convicted persons was that the former could only be fingerprinted pursuant to a warrant issued by a magistrate on the application of a police officer not below the rank of Superintendent or, in the metropolitan area, the Commissioner or Assistant Commissioner of Police, while the latter cold be fingerprinted at any time without warrant.3 If a prisoner on remand with no previous convictions was acquitted or discharged by the magistrate, his fingerprints were to be destroyed. Until 1948 these Regulations provided the only authority for the compulsory fingerprinting of suspected persons.4

The Regulations did not cover persons charged with offence triable summarily. The law was altered by section 40 of the Criminal Justice Act, 1948, replaced by the Magistrates' Courts Act, 1952, section 40 which (as subsequently amended)5 is the principal legislative provision governing fingerprinting. Section 40 (as amended) provides that where any person not less than 14 years of age who has been taken into custody or summoned is charged with an offence before a magistrates' court, the court may, on the application of a police officer not below the rank of Inspector, order that his fingerprints or palm prints shall be taken by a constable6.

1. Leigh Police Powers in England and Wales, (1975), pp. 199-200.

2. Regulations for the Measuring and Photography of Criminal Prisoners, S.R. & 0. 1986, No. 762, continued in force by Prisons Act, 1952, sections 16 and 54(3).

3. S.R. & 0. 1896, No. 762, paras. 3, 4, 5.

4. Sir J. Moylan Scotland Yard, (1929), pp. 192-194.

5. By Criminal Justice Act, 1967, section 33.

6. Leigh Police Powers in England and Wales, (1975), p. 200.

Identification of Prisoners Act, 1920 Back

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