Sun, 24 Feb 2008

ACPO police certificates coming out of nowhere required for those going somewhere

Some countries require Police record information as part of their immigration, visas, work permits and residency acceptance processes. This is the case for the USA: ‘Under United States visa law, people who have been arrested at anytime are required to declare the arrest when applying for a visa.’ This applies to all those that have been arrested even if never convicted.

The way to get details of your – blank or otherwise – police record is to make a subject access request using the Police National Computer (PNC) Form 3019B. This is a right given by the Data Protection Act 1998. The act stipulates that a reply must be received within 40 days as long as the necessary fee has been paid. The fee is decided by the relevant data controller up to a maximum of £10 and the Police do charge the maximum.

With very little fanfare, a trial has recently started in which four countries will no longer accepting PNC record extracts for their visa procedures. Instead you will need a police certificate:

The ACPO Criminal Records Office is piloting an initiative to provide Police Certificates for Visa purposes. The four countries involved in the pilot are Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States of America.

There's no press release from the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) I could find. Searching the Hansard (or They work for you) does not bring any result so this doesn't appear to have been debated in Parliament at all. Nothing either on the websites of the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Department for Transport, the Home Office or the Ministry of Justice (sponsor of the Information Commissioner's Office). The new form on the ACPO site does not include any issuance date, but the document properties reveal that it was created by the Hampshire Constabulary on 2008-01-15. The US Embassy is requiring new visa applicants to furnish a new style police certificate from the ACPO and those that have already applied for a PNC data subject access have only until 2008-08-15 to appear for interview. For a trial, it looks rather definitive. The websites of the Australian, Canadian, New Zealand embassies do not appear to have been updated yet to reflect the changes (with the Citizenship and Immigration Canada website even including out of date URLs to the Metropolitan Police Service website).

Here's a summary of the differences:

PNC data subject access ACPO police certificate
Provides ‘[I]nformation that may be held about you on the Police National Computer’ Unclear
The form states: ‘ACRO will carry out extensive authentication exercises including searching various databases.’
Validity 12 months 6 months
Cost £10 paid to the local police force £35£40 for standard service (£70£80 for a premium service) paid to ‘HPA’ (apparently the Hampshire Police Authority)
Processing time Within 40 days (Data Protection Act requirement) Aimed to be within 10 working days (2 working days for the premium service)
Requirements Proof of identity (returned), fee and form 3019B (less than a page) Proof of identity (retained), photograph, fee and Police Certificate Application Form (two pages)
Declaration and photograph to be countersigned by a guarantor
Who handles the requests National Indentification Service (NIS)
All data subject access requests are under the authority of the Information Commissioner's Office
ACPO Criminal Records Office (ACRO)

These new police certificates appear to work outside the constraints of any law and any debate, they are entirely governed by the ACPO and the agreements it made with several embassies. The list of database queried is not known and what will be communicated is not yet known either (someone who has gone through the process may detail what the result reveals). The fee has more than tripled. The only positive is that it is speedier, but even that is not guaranteed: ‘ACRO will aim to produce all police certificates (standard service) within 10 working days.’

And the ACPO is most likely free to change any aspect of this scheme as it chooses.

Why introducing a paralegal process when there's already one in place that seems to do the job? If the PNC data subject access process was not adequate for visa requirements of some countries then this should be explained, debated by Parliament and put under the authority of the Information Commissioner's Office.

First published on 2008-02-24; last updated on 2013-07-11 to fix some broken links.

websiteblogblog archivenews feedfeedback