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UK justice ministry investigates non-updating of PNC

Warrant withdrawals and a resulting mess

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The UK Justice Secretary has launched a nationwide investigation into how the court system updates the Police National Computer after a review earlier this year threw up flaws in the process.

Jack Straw late last week announced the investigation would cover the "national process and practice for withdrawing warrants, involving courts, the police, and the crown prosecution service".

At the same time, it is writing to all Local Criminal Justice Boards as part of a national review into warrant withdrawal practices across England and Wales.

The statement said the investigation had already identified "differing practices across magistrates courts which will require further investigation and may require us to clarify the procedures".

The issue centres on the withdrawal of warrants for defendants who never turned up for their court dates. Reports have suggested that thousands of criminals may have escaped justice when they failed to turn up for their court cases because warrants were never issued. As a result, they would not have been pursued by police, and the charges would not have shown up on the Police National Computer.

Straw emphasised in his statement that the government has previously issued guidance stressing that "the decision to withdraw a warrant is a judicial one".

The national investigation was announced as Straw revealed a "thorough inspection" into the resulting and warrant processes at Leeds Magistrates Court, "principally" on the years 1997 to 2003.

During a national review earlier this year, problems at Leeds Magistrates Court were flagged up with the warrant procedure and with the entry of case results onto the Police National Computer, or "resulting" in court system slang.

Last week's statement added: "Where any evidence of misconduct was found disciplinary investigations have been undertaken." ®

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