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  • If…you can find a court record while others….

    Posted on August 27th, 2009 admin No comments
    Is a person's record of conviction open to the public for inspection?

    Is a person's record of conviction open to the public for inspection?

    I have always been an advocate of a central, publicly accessible database of the criminal convictions of everybody in the country.

    Mainly this comes from my experiences as a court reporter, being sent by a local paper to cover the magistrates court. Often I would find myself in one courtroom covering what was perceived to be a “good” case while other defendants were being dealt with in the other courts.

    What you ended up with was the people who were unlucky enough to have me in the courtroom with them found themselves plastered all over the paper, while those in the other courtrooms were able to slink back into anonymity.

    Why should it be that the experience of the local court reporter, and the financial and editorial priorities of the local paper determine which criminals have their convictions known to the public, and which manage to keep them secret?

    This quirk in the criminal justice system has been exposed in an Information Tribunal ruling where John Carleton was attempting to find out from Worcester Magistrates’ Court the fate of a relative who had been before the JPs.

    His attempts to obtain the record from the court were unsuccessful, and even after paying £25 to the court, the information was still not made available to him.

    A Freedom of Information Act request was lodged with the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), which has responsibility for Her Majesty’s Court Service (HMCS), but it was turned down on the basis that it could not confirm or deny it held the information.

    The Information Commissioner then took almost two years to uphold the MoJ’s decision although it was noted that it could have assisted the applicant more in directing him towards another piece of legislation that may have allowed him access to the court register.

    When the Tribunal considered the verdict in upheld the view of the Commissioner, but it did however point out the strange situation the law has got itself in over the matter of court records.

    It said: “The Tribunal notes that there are apparently anomalies created by the current Freedom of Information and Data Protection legislation in this area and which are mentioned briefly below.

    “If the Appellant, as a member of the public, had attended the court on the relevant date there is no reason to suppose that he would not have been able to hear all the information that he was requesting because it would have been part of the normal, public court proceedings.

    “If the Appellant had found out that the press or the media had covered the case and was able to get a copy of the newspaper report or media broadcast then – although the personal data in question would have been processed by becoming part of those reports – the Appellant would have had legitimate access to the information and the personal data he was seeking.

    “If the local newspaper or media outlet put the court report within a webpage on the internet or as a “podcast” to be downloaded by the Appellant – whether there was a “search” facility on the site allowing specific names or topics to be highlighted and retrieved or not - and then viewed, printed out, played or stored, then all of that is legitimate processing of personal data within the current statutory legislation.”

    The Tribunal has asked for this situation to be communicated back to the MoJ – but don’t expect any swift changes in the law. As for the applicant Mr Carleton, presumably he still doesn’t know what happened to his relative on that fateful day at Worcester Magistrates’ Court. He says that he wants to information so that he could help out his relative financially. The ruling doesn’t explain why he couldn’t just ask his relative.

    The full Tribunal decision can be found here. [link]

  • What became of the drink-drive policemen..Part II

    Posted on August 27th, 2009 admin No comments

    UPDATE: For those that remember entry What became of the drink drive policemen…. well Dumfries and Galloway Police have coughed up their response.
    The two officers, who were convicted of drink-driving, were indeed made to resign from the force.
    Here is a copy of the police force’s response to the applicant after the decision of the Scottish Information Commissioner.

    Letter from Dumfries and Galloway Police Force