Chief Constable of Humberside v Information Commissioner & Another
Reference:  EWCA Civ 1079
Court: Court of Appeal (Civil)
Judge: Waller, Carnath, Hughes LJJ
Date of judgment: 19 Oct 2009
Summary: Data protection – Data Protection Principles - Human Rights – Whether the Data Protection Principles under the Data Protection Act 1998 oblige police to delete certain old minor convictions from the Police National Computer (PNC)
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Instructing Solicitors: Greater Manchester Police for the Appellants; Information Commissioner's Office for the Respondent; Treasury Solicitors for the Intervening Party
The Appellants, five Chief Constables all of whom were data controllers within the meaning of the DPA, appealed against the findings of the Information Tribunal and Information Commissioner that the minor convictions of five individuals should be deleted from the PNC. In one of the five cases, the case of S, S had been assured that her relevant conviction, an official reprimand, would be removed from her record in accordance with a “weeding policy” then in force. This policy was subsequently changed and the police view became that no convictions should be deleted except in exceptional circumstances.
Whether the retention of the data:
(1) Was excessive in relation to the purpose for which it was processed (DPP 3); and
(2) Was kept for longer than necessary, bearing in mind the purpose for which it was processed (DPP 5).
(1) Data Controllers must identify the purpose for which the data is retained so that people know the purposes for which the data is being retained and so the Information Commission and data subjects can test the principles under the DPA by references to the purposes identified.
(2) Data retention on the PNC was to enable the police to assist the public in accordance with force policies. This included the supply of accurate records to the CPS, the courts and the CRB. That purpose was a broad one. To retain information of minor convictions in accordance with this purpose did not contravene DPP 3 and DPP 5.
(3) Despite the assurances given to S, it does not become ‘unfair’ to retain the convictions under the new policy simply because S was told of what the previous policy was at the time of conviction. To delete S’s record would lead to the deletion of many others, which was likely to prejudice the prevention and detection of crime.
Carnwath LJ gave a strong dissenting judgment in relation to the case of S, opining that it was unconvincing to disallow S’s request for deletion on the basis that many other cases would be affected. On the contrary, he asserted, in the absence of any evidence of other similar cases, the Tribunal was entitled to limit consideration to this particular case and to balance on the one hand, the effect on S of going back on the representations made to her, against, on the other, the potential significance of the information in question.