Select Committee on Home Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Further supplementary note by the Home Office


  When we met on 12th February, I undertook to write to let the Committee have some additional information on certain matters. This letter follows up two of these—the relevance of the law of defamation to the disclosure of "soft" information from local police records, and improvements in IT arrangements within the criminal justice system.

  As to the former, the law of defamation would apply to the publication of information provided by a chief officer of police under section 115(7) or (8) of the Police Act 1997. However, this means also that the normal defences would be available. Apart from the possible defence of justification (that is, that the statement made was true), there would in most cases be a defence of privilege. Thus, provided that information were published in accordance with the Act, the person publishing the information (whether the CRB itself, in pursuance of section 115(9), the police in pursuance of a request under subsection (7) or (8), or the registered person in accordance with section 124) would be able to rely on the defence of qualified privilege. The grounds for such a defence would be that the person publishing the statement was under a duty to do so and the person receiving it had a reciprocal interest in obtaining the information. The publication would have to have been made honestly. Once it had been established that the publication took place on a privileged occasion, it would be for the claimant to prove malice.

  As to the second matter, the published IBIS (Integrating Business and Information Systems) medium-term strategic plan (October 1999) set out how we intend to join up IT across the criminal justice system. Each of the six main organisational components of the criminal justice system—the police, Prison Service, Probation Service, Crown Court, magistrates' courts and Crown Prosecution Service—is developing or implementing a major IT programme. The medium-term strategic plan sets out how these will be joined to ensure that information can be shared and exchanged between these systems. The plan also envisages links between these systems and Phoenix, the criminal records database on the Police National Computer, both to access information, and to update Phoenix—for example, with court results. Current plans are that court results will be passed from the court systems to the police Case Preparation system (under NSPIS—the National Strategy for Police Information Systems), and the appropriate results will be selected and forwarded by the police system to the PNC. The current plan is to roll out the Case Preparation and Custody aspects of the NSPIS package by early in 2004. The magistrates' court system, Libra, should be implemented throughout the country by the summer of 2003, and the Crown Court system by 2005.

  Implementation of the IBIS medium-term strategic plan depends on the delivery of the six strategic systems, and the interfaces between them. We have established an interdepartmental group at Ministerial level to oversee the work—the IBIS Ministerial Group. The Group has commissioned a high-level technical review to assess whether there are different technical options for joining up the systems, which would not have the same high level of dependency on co-ordination delivery of these large, complex systems. The review will be completed later this year. If it recommends a different technical approach, we will establish a test programme to confirm the theoretical possibilities and to reduce the risks of implementation.

  As was identified by the Committee, the new arrangements will still critically depend upon the prompt inputting of data by each of the agencies concerned. I highlighted the experience in another area where delays by different agencies had had a pronounced cumulative effect on performance overall. Clearly, it will be important that each agency should have quantified performance indicators, such as those that, as we discussed, the Association of Chief Police Officers has set in its Compliance Strategy designed to improve the quality of personal data held on the Police National Computer.

  I hope that this is helpful. I shall write to you on the remaining matters as soon as I am able to do so. I am copying this letter to the Clerk of the Committee.

Charles Clarke MP

5 March 2001

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