Memorandum by the Association of Chief
Police Officers' Crime Committee, Sub-committee on Criminal Records
CRIMINAL RECORDS BUREAU
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
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
3. THE PROBLEM
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
4. THE SOLUTION
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.
Chief Constable, Hampshire Constabulary
Chairman, ACPO Records Sub-committee
19 January 2001