An ACPO spokesperson said:
“The RSPCA has no direct access to records held on the Police National Computer (PNC). In common with other prosecuting bodies, it may make a request for disclosure of records at the stage that a prosecution is brought. This indirect access does not include firearms licensing, vehicle registrations (which are held on other systems to the PNC) or any information that the RSPCA does not need in order to prosecute a case at court. This process ensures that the PNC is kept up to date with records of prosecutions conducted by the RSPCA.”
Notes to Editors
1. The service that the ACPO Criminal Records Office (ACRO) provides to the RSPCA is limited to an 'Update' service i.e. creating records on the Police National Computer (PNC). This juncture is only reached after RSPCA officers operating throughout England & Wales have submitted an 'evidence file' to the RSPCA Prosecution Unit based in Horsham, West Sussex. This unit, often in consultation with the CPS, will make a determination on whether or not to prosecute and if so, the request is made to ACRO for a PNC record to be created. ACRO do not have any engagement with RSPCA officers operating at the national level: only with the Prosecutions Unit in Horsham.
2. The process for creating records on the PNC is the same for all Non Police Prosecuting Agencies (NPPA) that prosecutes members of the public for a recordable offence i.e. an offence that is deemed so serious that it carries a prison sentence as its maximum penalty or is otherwise specified as being 'recordable' in Regulations issued by Government.
In other words, ACRO does not have an 'unusual arrangement' with the RSPCA: we follow national guidance with the exception being that we disclose information to an organisation that is using common law to bring prosecutions and not statute law (as is the case with most other NPPA).
3. Creating a record on the PNC generates an Arrest Summons Number (ASN) that is provided to the RSPCA for use in judicial processes through the 'courts' for instance, the ASN is recorded on all relevant court papers. Furthermore, when the case is heard and the disposal entered on to the 'court' system known as LIBRA, an electronic message which contains the ASN, PNC ID and case details etc is sent through a gateway known as the 'Bichard 7 Solution, (so named after Recommendation 7 arising out of the Bichard Inquiry) to auto-populate the PNC with the disposal. The ASN is key in this regard as it is a unique reference which ensures that the correct result is entered against the correct PNC record.
What Sir Michael Bichard (now Lord Bichard) identified was a need to update PNC records as quickly as possible so that the information was available at the earliest opportunity. The expeditious nature of this requirement was of significant benefit not only to the police service but also to other organisations and government agencies that use information derived from the PNC for public safety and protection purposes e.g. National Offender Management Service (NOMS) and the Probation Service. Equally, and most significantly, the B7 Solution ensures that disposal information is available at an early juncture to be disclosed on the criminal record certificates produced by the Criminal Records Bureau (now the Disclosure and Barring Service).
In this regard, it ensures that where, for instance, the RSPCA prosecute a member of the public for ill-treating an animal or worse, slashing a horse with a knife ( a relatively common occurrence), that such offences, which are 'recordable offences' by definition under statute law, are recorded on the PNC and disclosed under Regulation in respect of someone who is perhaps seeking employment which involves working with children or the vulnerable.
Furthermore, if the relevant disposal includes an 'order' e,g. a Dog Banning Order or Exclusion Order, the details will be shared by ACRO with the force in whose area the convicted person lives so that it can be enforced as necessary.
4. ACRO only provides an 'Update Service' and does not release any intelligence or other information that the RSPCA does not need access to in order to prosecute their case in court. This includes providing relevant PNC prints e,g, Court, Prosecution and Defence as well as any PNC prints relative to persons called to give evidence. This is a standard court requirement and is relevant to the integrity and character of the witnesses. The prints provided to the court in respect of the defendant are considered at the relevant time by the Magistrates in relation to sentencing (or judges at Crown Court).
5. The 'Audit Process' as described in the PNC Manual is carried out at two different levels, firstly by local force auditors or data security staff, and secondly by representatives of Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary (HMIC). Such audits cover the direct access to information held on the PNC and not how information derived from the PNC and disclosed to non-police organisations is subsequently used, stored or disposed of.
However, these aspects are defined in the Information Sharing Agreements (ISA) drawn up between police forces or ACRO and the parties with whom they share information. As regards the information assurance measures contained in the ISA between ACRO and the RSPCA the following undertakings are made (in different sections):
•Personal data shared in accordance with this Agreement will only be used for the specific purpose for which they are requested.
•With the exception of telephone requests in cases of emergency, contact between ACRO and the RSPCA should only be made over a secure communication network and care must be taken where personal information is shared.
•Similarly, requests and replies should not be communicated via insecure email as the Internet is not secure and must not be used for the transmission of personal/sensitive personal data.
•Parties to this agreement undertake to ensure that personal data are handled, stored and processed at RESTRICTED level as defined by the Government Protective Marking Scheme (GPMS).
•The information shared should not be disclosed to any third party without the written consent of the Party that provided the information. It should be stored securely and deleted when it is no longer required for the purpose for which it is provided.
•The RSPCA will not release the information to any third party without obtaining the express written authority of ACRO unless such disclosure is for the purposes defined in this Agreement or they are otherwise required to do so by law.
•The RSPCA, as receivers of police information, will accept total liability for a breach of this Agreement should legal proceedings be served in relation to the breach. An Indemnity form is attached at Annex C.
•Paragraph 8 of the ISA deals specifically with Subject Access Requests and Notices served under Section 10 of the Data Protection Act 1998.
6. The ISA between ACRO and the RSPCA is annually renewable and has been in existence since 2010. The police operate a gateway service for non-police bodies seeking access to the PNC – the Information Access Panel (PIAP), on which the Home Office, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) and ACPO are represented. All non-police bodies accessing the PNC do so on the basis of document supply agreements which must be agreed by PIAP on the basis of a business case submitted by the applicant.
Besides those bodies with national access agreements, other agreements exist at police force or local levels such as with the Probation Service, Department for Work and Pensions, Local Authorities, Trading Standards, Fire & Rescue Services etc. A current list of Non-Police Prosecuting Agencies (NPPA) that receive services from ACRO is as follows:
•Department for Business, Innovation and Skills
•Civil Aviation Authority
•Eastern Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority
•Food Standards Agency
•Maritime and Coastguard Agency
•Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency
•Middlesborough Borough Council
•Office of Rail Regulation
•Security Industry Authority
•Natural Resources Wales
ACRO is a non-profit making organisation and applies a standard charge of £35 for the ‘Update service’ which covers the administrative cost of maintaining criminal records that are up to date and fit for the purpose of policing.
7. These access arrangements were commented on by Sunita Mason, the Independent Advisor on Criminality Information in Phase 2 of her Criminal Records Review .
The ACPO Press Office can be contacted via 020 7084 8946/47/48 (office hours) or via 07803 903686 (out of office hours).
The Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) is an independent, professionally led strategic body. In the public interest and, in equal and active partnership with Government and partner agencies, ACPO leads and co-ordinates the direction and development of the police service in the United Kingdom. In times of national need ACPO, on behalf of all chief officers, co-ordinates the strategic policing response.
ACPO’s 295 members consist of 213 chief police officers from the home forces of assistant chief constable rank (commanders in the Metropolitan Police and City of London Police) and above, plus 55 senior police staff members from the 44 forces in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Non home forces such as British Transport Police have 24 chief police officer members and there are three members from the Service Police.