Apology after magistrates' details sent to prisoners

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The Independent Online

The personal details of hundreds of magistrates were placed in the hands of convicted criminals in a data loss blunder, it was revealed today.

A directory containing names, telephone numbers and email addresses of magistrates and court legal advisors in Norfolk was sent for printing in a prison workshop manned by inmates.

The document, containing details of 400 magistrates and 26 legal advisors, was sent to HMP Standford Hill in Sheerness, Kent, at the beginning of the month.

Printing, which is carried out by inmates supervised by prison officers, had begun when the mistake was uncovered.

The incident prompted an apology from senior courts service staff. A spokesman said all copies of the document have now been destroyed.

New screening measures have been set up to prevent the same thing happening again, he said.

The revelation provoked outrage from the Magistrates' Association amid fears for their members' security.

Chairman John Thornhill said: "This is a serious breach of security and if the Magistrates' Association had not raised the issue it would have gone undetected.

"The association is seeking a categorical assurance that HMCS (Her Majesty's Courts Service) will check with every bench and confirm that no further breaches have occurred."

Liberal Democrat spokesman David Howarth accused the Ministry of Justice of "gross incompetence" and questioned the Government's ability to keep private personal data.

"Whether it's sending magistrates' details to a prison or losing laptops, CDs and data sticks, the Government has failed time and time again to keep private information safe," he said.

"Jack Straw must now tell us if it was a one-off or if other magistrates have been compromised in this way."

A courts service spokesman said the workshop at the prison was assessed as "low risk".

"A magistrates' yearbook containing magistrates' personal information was sent in error to a print workshop at HMP Standford Hill," he said.

"All hard copies and electronic copies of the document at the prison have now been destroyed.

"The screening process for documents to be printed at the prison workshop has been made more secure to ensure this does not happen again.

"Her Majesty's Courts Service will alert all those affected and apologise."