Criminality checking for the legal industry

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Working in the legal industry is a position of trust and employers must ensure that prospective candidates are reliable and honest. There are also stringent regulations surrounding certain positions which means that criminality checking is not only recommended, it is a legal requirement.

Any person wishing to qualify as a solicitor in the UK must meet the educational and professional requirements set out in the Solicitor’s Act 1974. Part of the screening process includes a Standard DBS check as a minimum. Although, depending on the role, an enhanced DBS check might be required.

The authorities providing criminality checks in the UK are Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS), covering England and Wales, Disclosure Scotland (DS) and Access NI (Northern Ireland).

There are three main levels of DBS checking: Basic – which only checks for unspent convictions, Standard – which looks for spent and unspent convictions, cautions, warnings and reprimands, and Enhanced – the highest level of check which reveals spent and unspent convictions, cautions, warnings, reprimands and any other relevant police data.

Rigorous criminal background checking is required to ensure that those working in the legal sector are trustworthy and have not been banned from working in the industry.

Many organisations within the legal industry (including the Crown Prosecution Service), are part of the Ban the Box campaign which aims to provide 11 million people with a criminal record a chance of employment, by reducing the need for criminality checking for roles where background is irrelevant. But certain positions within the legal sector are protected by law with stringent criminal background checks to ensure that clients and other staff members are safe, and to reduce crimes facilitated by dishonest legal employees.

Those wanting to work in the legal industry who have lived outside the UK for 6 continuous months in the last 5 years are also legally required to be subject to criminality checking from the relevant country or countries.

All companies within the legal industry should have a dedicated background screening procedure in place, to ensure that all new and existing employees are suitable for employment in a the legal sector.