Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 33 No. 12. 5 August 1970
Every demonstrator arrested on the streets must have found it repugnant to have his fingerprints taken. Wellingtonians may not be aware that this practice has just been successfully challenged in Christchurch.
Keith Duffield was charged under the Police Offences Act for refusing to be fingerprinted. Mr Duffield is our most persistent and obvious of demonstrators, and as well known as the proverbial town clock. He contended that his fingerprints were not needed to identify him, as he was amply identified already.
The Magistrate, Mr H.J. Evans, took a week to prepare a comprehensive judgment. After thorough search he found no judicial precedents, and looked at the case in the light of the liberty of the subject. The Police Offenses Act authorises the police to take fingerprints "as may be deemed necessary". But who should decide what is necessary: the police, or the courts? Mr Evans ruled that the citizen had the right to test this point in court, and that Mr Duffield had proved his case. The charge was dismissed.
When you think it over, some interesting angles emerge. An arrested man is deemed innocent until he is proved guilty. He cannot be forced to make a statement that will incriminate him. Can he, therefore, be forced to provide evidence against himself by being fingerprinted and thus linking himself with some other incident?
Next, on identification: obviously a man arrested for the first time cannot be identified by his fingerprints. The prints are supposed to be destroyed if he is acquitted; but why take them at all at this stage?
There is a clear case for fingerprinting where, for example, fingerprints have been found on a murder weapon. But what bearing has this on routine fingerprinting in the case of political arrests, where nobody is hiding anything?
The Christchurch Press reported the case on June 5 and June 12, and on June 19 commented editorially: 'The decision means that, as the law stands, police when challenged must forgo taking fingerprints unless they can persuade a court that this form of identification is necessary."