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Campaigner Triumphs in Police Database Test Case

An 88-year-old political campaigner has won a landmark Court of Appeal ruling that the retention on a police database of details concerning his attendance at various protests amounted to a violation of his human right to respect for privacy. John Catt, from Brighton, East Sussex, who is of good character, argued successfully that, in the absence of any criminality on his part, the retention of data about him on the National Domestic Extremism Database was unlawful.

The court emphasised that the case turned on its own facts and that the retention of personal details would in certain circumstances be considered necessary for the benefit of society in general, including the prevention of disorder or crime and the protection of the rights and freedoms of others. However, in Mr Catt’s case, the court was not satisfied that the retention of details about him was necessary in a democratic society or a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.

Lord Justice Moore-Bick observed:  “We do not doubt the importance to modern policing of detailed intelligence gathering and we accept the need for caution before overriding the judgment of the police themselves about what information is likely to assist them in their task.”

However, in ruling that the value of the information to the police was insufficient to justify its retention, the judge, sitting with the Master of the Rolls, Lord Dyson and Lord Justice McCombe added: “The systematic collection, processing and retention on a searchable database of personal information, even of a relatively routine kind, involves a significant interference with the right to respect for private life.”

Mr Catt’s challenge to a refusal by the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) to permanently delete information about him contained on the database had been rejected by the High Court. In allowing his appeal, the court noted that Mr Catt had ‘not been convicted of criminal conduct of any kind in connection with any demonstrations that he has attended’.

Giving guidance for the future, Lord Justice Moore-Bick observed: “The overriding principle is the need to strike a fair balance between the personal interest of the claimant in maintaining respect for his private life and the pursuit of a legitimate aim in the interests of the public at large”.