Select Committee on Home Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum by the Association of Chief Police Officers' Crime Committee, Sub-committee on Criminal Records



  1.1  The introduction of Part Five of the Police Act of 1997 [The Act] is seen by the Police Service as a major step forward in the protection of the young and vulnerable in society. The Criminal Records Bureau [CRB] is seen as a positive step in standardising procedures across all forces in England and Wales and providing a single point of contact for all accepted disclosure matters. The Association of Chief Police Officers [ACPO] recognises the opportunity to improve an essential service and the long-term benefits the CRB will bring. ACPO has been, and will continue to work closely with them for the benefit of the community at large.


  2.1  In 1998 the Police Research Group identified serious shortcomings in the quality of Phoenix [PNC] data. The main criticism was that of the time taken from arrest to recording the details in the Phoenix system on PNC. In some forces this can take many weeks. An improvement plan was proposed which will see the average time for 90 per cent of the records reduced to less than 24 hours. This was part of a wider strategy designed to improve the data quality and promote the operational benefit of the service provided by PNC. This strategy was agreed by all Chief Constables in July 2000 and is known as the PNC Compliance Strategy.

  2.2  An inspection of forces specifically aimed at data quality was carried out early in 2000 by Her Majesties Inspector of Constabularies. The results were encapsulated in a document entitled "On The Record". This identified errors in detail on the source documents used for the updating of Phoenix records, but in the main these errors were around personal descriptive detail, which does not form part of the CRB remit. The Police Service, however, accepted the criticism and incorporated the improvement plan into the aforementioned strategy.

  2.3  Part of that strategy was an agreement that all forces would produce an action plan for improvements and submit that plan to the Inspectorate on or before 1st February 2001. The Inspectorate has agreed to use the action plans supplied to measure individual forces as they move to completion of the strategic aims, one of these being the improvement of data quality.

2.4 The C.R.B. is, in the main concerned with conviction data, which includes cautions for some disclosures. The information is gathered from court results, and the Police, as the "owners" of PNC have the responsibility of entering the information. Unless there is an obvious error there is no checking on the accuracy of the court results. The numbers of results passed from courts to police on a daily basis is many thousand. There is an issue with the time taken from appearance to the transmission of the results to forces to enable the results to be entered onto PNC. In 1995 the Masefield Scrutiny into the Criminal Justice System recommended courts should be responsible for updating results directly onto PNC through integrated technology. This has not occurred.


  3.1  The Police Service recognises a need to improve in all areas of data quality. It would seek to balance the view that the data is inaccurate with the fact that since 1985 the service has been providing PNC extracts to members of the public as part of their rights under the Data Protection Act. The numbers of subject access discloses has risen nationally from 31792 in 1995 to 124619 for the first ten months of 2000. A straw poll of forces has shown there have been very few challenges to the accuracy of that data. Complaints are so infrequent that forces to not keep totals of the numbers, but the average appears to be one in 10000 [0.01%] checks that is disputed in some material way. The Data Protection commission has been approached, although they cannot provide statistics, they did report that there were "very few" complaints from the public over the quality of PNC data. The service is however, acutely aware that there will be little complaint if information is omitted and therefore does not seek to use this fact as evidence that our data is accurate.

  3.2  The use of police data by the C.R.B. in order for them to carry out the necessary checks prior to disclosure does not present a problem to the service, provided the necessary security and data protection registration arrangements are in place. Discussions will continue with The CRB up to and beyond the implementation date to ensure procedures are in place. The proposed CRB procedures will be monitored during development by ACPO and rigorously tested before being applied to live data.

  3.3  The Police Service will retain the responsibility for disclosing non-conviction information and for all other criminal checks that fall outside the ambit of The Act. Solutions are being found daily to overcome problems facing the CRB as they build their procedures. The Police Service is an integral part of their planning process.


  4.1  The Police Service will continue to improve the accuracy of all data, especially that held on PNC. This will be through the continuous improvement cycle that has started with the PNC Compliance Strategy. The introduction of the CRB and the payment of costs associated with the Police Service involvement in disclosures make it more imperative that the data is accurate. This is now a service for which we are being paid.

  4.2  The Police Service however, is not the only data source. Many organisations instigate actions that require PNC updates [eg Customs and Excise, Post Office, Social Services]. The Police Service enters this information, as these organisations have no authority to amend entries. The Police Service must work with these organisations to ensure their data is acceptable in terms of quality and timeliness.

  4.3  The resulting of cases after a court appearance is still the responsibility of the Police Service. It was always assumed that this would eventually pass to the courts for direct updating as a result of the Masefield Scrutiny. This has not happened and is another area where the potential for errors is increased. The accuracy and timeliness of the court results could be dramatically increased if the courts entered their own results. The Police Service would urge the committee to recommend this course of action.


  5.1  The Police Service fully supports the concept and operation of the Criminal Records Bureau and feels that, whilst there is still some way to go, the inaccuracy of police data is not a problem of such seriousness that it will compromise the operation of the CRB The proposed system is a considerable improvement over the current system.

  5.2  There is no movement of responsibility for criminal checks from the Police Service to The CRB as those to be carried out by the CRB are a new type of service, which is not currently offered by the police.

Paul Kernaghen

Chief Constable, Hampshire Constabulary

Chairman, ACPO Records Sub-committee

19 January 2001

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