The Sun’s “justice” campaigners are out in force again with their ill-informed codswallop which appears designed to do nothing but misinform the public and create fear, alarm and distress. It’s an absolute disgrace that editors feel at liberty to misrepresent the law in this way. If a newspaper editor wishes to argue for the abolition of the Human Rights Act 1998 or the removal of the UK from the European Union (note the European Union is a seperate institution to the Council of Europe and it is the Council of Europe who is responsible for the European Convention on Human Rights and the European Court of Human Rights) then that is perfectly legitimate, but they should use legitimate criticisms and not invent it where none exists.
The Sun’s latest ill-informed piece is in respect of the Court of Appeal’s decision in a number of cases relating to the requirements to disclose convictions. The system of CRB checks was tightened up after the murders of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman by Ian Huntley. However, the Court of Appeal found that the present system breaches the human rights of those who have been convicted of irrelevant and minor crimes in the past.
There is, as I have said before, a legitimate public interest in ensuring that those convicted of sex offences against children or who otherwise genuinely pose a danger to the vulnerable in our society are prevented from working with those groups. However, there is not a legitimate public interest in forcing people to disclose cautions and convictions for the most minor of offences committed perhaps a quarter of a century or more ago. Most people will remember the utterly ridiculous situation where people who had devoted their life to public service were prevented from standing for election as a Police and Crime Commissioner in England and Wales because of crimes they committed as children (some as many as half a century ago). It is this disproportionate effect of criminal record checking that has to be addressed; it doesn’t serve any public interest and it certainly doesn’t protect the public.
In this country there is still far too much prejudice against those who have a criminal record. Once a person is convicted of a crime they are branded a “criminal” and are forever going to be seen as one. The prejudice actively harms society because those who are determined to become rehabilitated and live purposefully in society find themselves repeatedly hitting their heads against a brick wall when it comes to getting employment. For many there is no real incentive to desist from criminal behaviour because there are few willing to give them a chance.
Whether you have a criminal record or not; what would the worst season of your life say about you? Would you want to be forever judged based on the mistakes you made during that season in your life? I certainly wouldn’t. I dare say you wouldn’t either; perhaps most of all because it doesn’t reflect the person who you are today. Why should it be the case for those who have committed criminal offences in the past that they should forever be judged by them?
I’m not talking about those people who genuinely pose a danger to the public. A person who is sexually attracted to children or has a history of sexually abusing vulnerable adults should not be permitted to work with those groups in society. That would be putting the public at risk and infringing upon the rights of children and vulnerable adults. However, we must move to a system whereby only relevant convictions are disclosed. The fact that a person stole some stuff twenty years ago is entirely irrelevant if in the intervening twenty years they have not been convicted of theft.
The judgment of the Court of Appeal will not lead to known paedophiles getting work in schools; it won’t lead to known abusers getting work with vulnerable adults. What it will do is ensure that only those with convictions relevant to the work they seek to undertake will be required to disclose them and that the authorities will only be permitted to disclose those convictions which are actually relevant during the vetting process.