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Unnecessary checks are a crime – and should be reported to the police

manifesto_logoTo paraphrase Ken Livingstone, if legislation changed anything it would become illegal.

The aptness of that phrase should surprise no one observing the mad world of vetting checks. As the Manifesto Club’s recent report shows, little has changed despite the Protection of Freedoms Act. Unnecessary criminal record checks still continue. And although the club’s report focuses on school parent volunteers, a similar pattern exists elsewhere.

The Scouts, who have conducted over 10 million taxpayer pounds worth of ‘free’ checks, seem oblivious to the legislative change. Their ‘updated’ vetting rules list so many types of people requiring checks that many Scout Groups probably still think it easier to vet every parent. And student tutoring schemes also show few signs of reducing checks.

The GOLDEN rule of these schemes, which place university students in schools for 3-4 hours a week, is that students are ALWAYS supervised. But while Bath University is reviewing its policy, others continue taking a hard line. At the LSE, Reading and other universities checks on students continue unabated.

At London’s Imperial College, student tutoring manager Dr Annalisa Alexander told me “I would never send a student to a school without an enhanced clearance certificate and the schools we work with require it”, adding “I would not like any of my students to be left on their own with a class”. Clearly the universities cannot object to their students being checked – at their expense – as doing so would endanger these valuable schemes.

One often overlooked problem with illegal checks is the devastation they can sometimes cause. In my youth work, I encountered examples of parents – sometimes on their second marriage – finding themselves being automatically banned from working, even with their own children, after an unnecessary vetting check revealed a long forgotten conviction.

The independent charity UNLOCK, which seeks equality for people with previous convictions, know more than most that many unlawful checks take place every year. For their clients, having to undergo an unnecessary check often destroys any attempt at rehabilitation, as many employers automatically reject anyone with convictions, no matter how old they are.

UNLOCK recommend complaining about unnecessary checking requests to The Ministry of Justice (MOJ). The MOJ ‘owns’ the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act (ROA) and The Exceptions List of this act provides the basis for whether or not a role requires a check. But as UNLOCK’s Christopher Stacey points out, “The Ministry of Justice are poor in their attempts to police the ROA Exceptions”

Stella Francoise of the MOJ’s Sentencing Policy and Penalties Unit told me they have no enforcement function. She said that complaints about illegal checks should be directed to the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS). The DBS recently introduced a procedure to allow the person being checked to request a delay while the DBS asks the checking body to confirm their request is legitimate. But the MOJ gave no indication about what punishment would be administered to those found breaking the law. And as Christopher Stacey notes, the number of prosecutions for illegal checks “Stands at none”.

With the DBS and MOJ both apparently trying to avoid enforcing the law, one wonders if a more direct approach would work. Requesting an illegal criminal records check is a CRIME under The Police Act 1997. It carries fine of up to £5000 and/or a maximum 6 month prison sentence. And crimes should, I argue, be reported to the police.

It is an untested route, but one wonders what action the police would take over an illegal check. It would also be fascinating to watch the reaction of the Scout Group leader or the zealous head when having to explain their intentions to Knacker of the Yard! I currently have no reason to do such a thing, but if anyone else does – and wants to try it – then please share the result.

Shaun Joynson is a former teacher and Scout Leader who supports the Manifesto Club’s Campaign Against Vetting.

This article was originally published on the Manifesto Club website, and thank you to Shaun for his permission to republish the article here. 

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