CRB review will remove unnecessary obstacles

Sunita Mason explains why her review of the criminal records regime will make life easier for those who care for the vulnerable

The criminal records regime exists to provide a degree of protection to society by storing details of previous misconduct so that the police and other agencies can use that information to protect the public.

The home secretary commissioned me to review this regime as part of the coalitionb government’s commitment to scale it back to common sense levels.

In speaking to the numerous groups and individuals I consulted as part of my review, I came across many striking examples that made the reason for this very clear.

Many who do some of the most valuable work in our society – such as care-givers, social workers and teachers – told me about the detrimental effect that excessive checking can have on their lives. They also spoke of the dissatisfaction they felt with a system that should be aimed at protecting vulnerable people, but which was proving an intrusive and unnecessary barrier, not just to employment but volunteering too.

I heard many cases of nurses and social workers registered with agencies having to obtain numerous CRB checks – in excess of 30 on one occasion – and pay all the inherent costs of these themselves.

There was a man who was told he couldn’t give a talk to a group of youth club children about his travel experiences because he refused to apply for a check. And there was even a teacher who applied for an enhanced criminal records check in which police information disclosed that he had received a Penalty Notice for Disorder for “excessive standing” at a football match.

In the two parts of my review, I gave a series of recommendations aimed at making immediate improvements to criminality information management, as well as suggestions for long-term changes for the better.

Some have already been taken forward by the government in the protection of freedoms bill, including:

• Online status checks, enabling individuals to reuse certificates for different employers across the same sector instead of requesting a new certificate every time they apply for a new role.
• Stopping checks on under 16s.
• Ensuring that only relevant and accurate personal information will ever be disclosed by the police.
• The opportunity for applicants to review and, if appropriate, dispute any information held about them by the police prior to it being disclosed to an employer

Everyone I consulted agreed that checks were necessary and relevant to prevent another tragedy such as the Soham murders, but also that such checks should not blight people’s prospects and opportunities.

I hope my recommendations will play a part in making it easier for those who care for the most vulnerable in our society to get on with their extremely valuable work without fear of unnecessary obstacles or intrusion.

Sunita Mason is the government’s independent advisor for criminality information management and has just completed phase two of her review on the criminal records regime