Police Commissioner Gary Griffith has been ordered to destroy the mugshots and physical measurement records of persons acquitted of criminal offences, who have no pending matters before the Courts.
High Court Judge Margaret Mohammed made the order yesterday as she partially upheld a lawsuit brought by a man challenging the constitutionality of an amendment to the Police Service Act, which empowered the T&T Police Service (TTPS) to retain such sensitive data.
“In my opinion, the failure of the legislation to state a period of retention and to give the Commissioner of Police any power with regards to the destruction of such information means that a person who has been acquitted remains “under the eyes” of the police for the rest of his life even if he is innocent,” Mohammed said.
She also ruled that the segment of the legislation was illegal, null and void, and has no effect.
The lawsuit, brought by Keston Felix, also dealt with provisions in the legislation over the retention of fingerprint impressions taken from suspects and accused persons.
However, Mohammed ruled that those provisions were not offensive as they allowed the Police Commissioner to destroy records of persons 20 years after they are exonerated and limited access to the TTPS’s fingerprint database.
“The purpose for the retention of the fingerprint data is consistent with the legislative objective of the detection and combating of crime,” she said.
“This period of retention may appear to be long, but in the context of the national peculiarities in this jurisdiction as it relates to the delays in the criminal justice system, the period of retention is within the State’s margin of appreciation,” she added.
According to the evidence in the case, Felix was arrested by police in May 2017 and charged for using insulting language and resisting arrest.
Two years later, Felix was eventually found not guilty of both charges.
In her judgement, Mohammed noted that Felix said that he was worried that he would be victimised by the same group of officers, who charged him, and their colleagues, who would have had access to his photographs and physical measurements.
“It is also distressing to him that even though he was acquitted of all charges the police are still able to keep his information. As a free citizen, he feels as though his privacy has been invaded and he wants the said personal information to be destroyed so it cannot be accessed by the TTPS,” she said.
In the lawsuit, Felix was contending that his constitutional right to privacy was being infringed. The State contended that any infringement was reasonably justifiable.
Felix was represented by Lee Merry and Vanita Ramroop, while Stefan Jaikaran and Amrita Ramsook represented the State.