Most sensible people are in favour of measures that promote the safety and security of children and vulnerable adults. However, vetting legislation has gone too far and it is making a mockery of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 (ROA).
The ROA was a piece of progressive legislation, designed to give a second chance to individuals who had committed minor offences which, in time, could become ‘spent’. This meant that the slate would be wiped clean and that, with a few exceptions, an ex-offender was free to secure employment without too many problems. Serious offences can never become spent.
Unfortunately, over time, so much vetting and barring legislation has been passed to make the ROA almost meaningless. CRB checks have been in place for a long time, but they used to be restricted to people working in direct contact with children or vulnerable adults: e.g. teachers and social workers. Now, CRB checks are the norm for practically all NHS and education positions (from cooks to cleaners, from admin assistants to electricians) and for many other public sector jobs. All CRB checks in England contain information about spent convictions. This means that people in their forties with decade old spent convictions have problems with employment.
In addition to spent convictions, there are other major issues:
With enhanced CRB checks, all sorts of incidents and allegations that did not result in prosecution or conviction can be made available to an employer.
Some employers ask for CRB checks for roles that do not require them, effectively using the vetting system as a form of recruitment selection.
The CRB is aware that some employers abuse the system but turn a blind eye to it.
It’s easy to see the need to ensure that anyone who has been convicted of a sexual assault may be unsuitable for work with children or vulnerable adults, and that such a crime should continue to show up permanently on CRB checks. What causes concern is that people with old and spent convictions for offences which did not involve harm to children or vulnerable adults, should be in a position years later, where what they did when they were young still comes back to cause problems.
Spent convictions should really be spent and employers should not have access to them. In fact, they should be wiped from the Police National Computer database.
Why is this idea important?
My idea is important because as a liberal and progressive society, we must be able to distinguish between serious criminals and minor offenders.
Home Office statistics show that one in three men have at least one criminal conviction for a non-motoring offence by the time they are 30. Only a small minority of them have committed a serious crime.