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Calls for further reform of disclosure rules

In the last edition of the Debrief, we covered the announcement of the Data Reform Bill in the Queen’s speech. On the 17th June, the official response to the government’s consultation on this Data from a recent freedom of information request has revealed that more than one third of childhood offences disclosed in official Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) certificates in England and Wales, occurred over 40 years ago.

The vetting system for criminal records in the UK, was overhauled in the aftermath of the Soham murders in 2002. Ian Huntley, who was convicted for the double murder of Jessica Chapman and Holly Wells, was work-ing as a caretaker at the school they attended, and had also been reported to police on previous occasions for sexually assaulting underage girls.

The resulting reforms made it compulsory for anyone working or volunteering with children or vulnerable adults to undergo an enhanced criminal record check, to prevent dangerous individuals from gaining access to victims through employment.

Under an enhanced criminal record check, even very minor offences or dealings with the police resulting in no charge, are now disclosed to potential employers.

Despite a recent UK supreme court ruling in 2019, which declared the automatic disclosure of youth cautions as unlawful, there remains a debate around the automatic disclosure of youth convictions, and the potential ramifi-cations that seemingly minor offences committed as a child, could have on an adult’s career options.

The Fairchecks campaign

Fairchecks is a movement who are calling for total reform of the UK’s criminal records vetting system, stating that:

“one mistake should not define someone for life.”

Figures quoted on their website state that:

  • 1 in 6 people in the UK have a criminal record

  • 50% of employers would not hire someone with a criminal record

In light of this, they are calling for a review, considering the following points:

  • Removal of criminal records for cautions

  • Childhood offences to be wiped

  • Remove the need to disclose short prison sentences indefinitely

Penelope Gibbs of Fairchecks, commented:

“For too long, reform of criminal records checks has languished in the ‘too difficult’ box. Of course we need some checks. But our dis-proportionate system ruins lives by forcing people to disclose rela-tively minor crimes to employers decades on...Rehabilitation in-volves allowing people to move on in their lives. The government could facilitate that by making criminal checks fairer.”

The organisation gives examples of real people who have committed relatively minor offences in their youth, which have had significant re-percussions many years later.

One individual was convicted of Actual Bodily Harm for acting in self-defence and to protect a pregnant woman against assault when he was 18, receiving a fine of £75 at the time. Now working in private educa-tion, he has had to disclose and explain this offence every year, almost 37 years later; he also believes that he was turned down for several jobs prior to his current employment, as a result of his past conviction.

Abused children’s offences to be reviewed

In addition to this current debate, the Inde-pendent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) has recently called for a review of offences which have been committed by young peo-ple who were being groomed, or acting un-der coercive duress at the time.

Sammy Woodhouse was a victim of the now infamous Rotherham child sex ring, and has been campaigning for her criminal record to be reviewed. Woodhouse was co-erced into committing the offences by her abuser, Arshid Hussain, who is currently serving 35 years in prison. She was only 14 when she started to be coerced into drugs, was ac-cused of prostitution, and also coerced into the abduction of other children, on behalf of her abuser.

Woodhouse stated:

“People don’t want to touch you if you have a criminal record. You can’t apply for most jobs. If you’ve been exploited, you’re being punished for something that was not your fault.”

The IOPC has asked the Law Commission for a review into these matters.

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