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Police: Criminal Records

Volume 696: debated on Tuesday 13 November 2007

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What guidance they have issued to police forces in relation to the retention of records of old criminal convictions.

My Lords, the Home Secretary issued a statutory code of practice on the management of police information in July 2005. The Association of Chief Police Officers issued detailed operational guidance in April 2006. This sets out guidance on the review, retention and disposal of police information. The National Policing Improvement Agency and forces are working to ensure compliance with the code by the agreed deadline of 2010.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Is he aware that the Information Commissioner’s Office has ordered four police forces to delete all criminal convictions from the police national computer because the information is held contrary to the principles of the Data Protection Act? Will the Minister ask Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary to investigate why the Humberside, West Midlands and Staffordshire forces are holding information on minor offences committed more than 25 years ago? In one case, a 14 year-old has been told that her record will not be deleted until she reaches 100 years of age.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, has raised a couple of interesting points, and I will have to be a little expansive in my answer. At the moment we are between two systems. I say that advisedly because in the past the system really did not work at all. The Bichard inquiry looked in great detail at record creation, review, retention, deletion and so on, which is we why we have moved forward to where we are. The retention guidelines that we are now moving towards look at stepping down; in other words, not giving access to other authorities to those data rather than removing them. We used to weed data, as I am sure the noble Lord is aware. We are between those two positions.

I cannot speak on the specifics about the Information Commissioner because the four police forces are appealing against the enforcement notices and that is the subject of an information tribunal.

My Lords, what is happening about DNA products that are taken and are held whether or not the person has been convicted? What guidance will be given to police authorities about that?

My Lords, the DNA data held on the police national computer will still be held for the people they relate to. Access will be confined to the police and those on a list of non-police organisations; an example of an organisation that is allowed to call on those data is the Defence Vetting Agency. Once a conviction is spent, organisations other than the police force that owns those data will no longer have access.

My Lords, the Minister has not replied to the question. It was not about those who are convicted; it was about those who are not convicted.

My Lords, I am not aware exactly what is the position on that. Perhaps I may write to the noble Baroness on the specifics.

My Lords, in asking my question, I pay tribute to the work of Richard Thomas, the Information Commissioner, and his office. They are doing a sterling job in highlighting some of the problems with data retention. Was the Minister saying in his reply to my noble friend Lord Dholakia that the police will retain data on people until they are 100 years old or dead? I thought that one of the eight principles of data retention is that they are held for as long as is necessary.

My Lords, the position is that the data will be held until the person is 100 years old, unless they are removed in an exceptional case procedure. Any person can ask what data are held on them in accordance with the Data Protection Act and can ask for their data to be removed once they are spent. They are then looked at and they may or may not be removed, depending on a police officer at chief level within that constabulary, who makes that final decision. So data are effectively held there until the person is 100 unless they are removed.

One interesting thing about the Question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia—it shows the value of these Questions—is that I asked people in the Home Office, “How does an offender know and understand what has happened and what is the position?”. I do not think that that is made clear enough to offenders; it is not made clear enough to them that there is a procedure for them to see the data and get rid of them. So I said, “I am sure that we can do this, can’t we?”. That is being looked at at the moment. Perhaps I may get back to the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, to tell him whether we can achieve that.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the Bichard inquiry, which followed the terrible Soham murders, criticised the police for destroying intelligence and not sharing it with adjoining police forces? It is important that we distinguish between criminal convictions and intelligence. It is not the retention of the records that is the problem; it is how the information is used afterwards. It is important that police forces retain information for as long as necessary in the furtherance of the detection of crime.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that interjection. When I started looking at this—I have to admit again to my lack of knowledge until a few days ago, but I am rapidly doing a PhD course on all the things I have to talk about—I was slightly concerned about some of the data that were held, but what was put over to me very clearly was how valuable it has been in some very unpleasant cases to be able to go back to the data. It also enables us to stop people working in certain areas, particularly with the aged, the young and the sick, where there would clearly be a risk. There have been some unfortunate examples in the past where people have done dreadful things in those areas and where, if we had known those facts, that would have helped us considerably.