Data Retention and Child Protection Records – Court Guidance

The issue of how long official records containing personal data should be retained before destruction is intensely controversial and one High Court case has revealed that the approach of data controllers across the country is by no means uniform.

With the backing of the Information Commissioner, an individual mounted a judicial review challenge to his local authority’s policy of retaining child protection records for 35 years. It was argued that that period was far too long and that such records should be destroyed six years after the data subject’s 18th birthday.

The Court noted an absence of authoritative national guidance on the issue and the wide variety of different retention periods employed by different local authorities. One council’s policy was to destroy child protection records on the subject’s 21st birthday whilst others employed retention periods of up to 75 years.

In dismissing the challenge, the Court accepted the relevant council’s arguments that the 35-year retention period was justified by the need to protect other children, to allow data subjects access to material concerning them in later life and to deal effectively with complaints, investigations or litigation which had the potential to arise many years after the events recorded.