In this case, a 21 year old man wanted cautions to be removed from his criminal record. His crime, being accused of stealing two bicycles at aged 11. Information about the cautions had been flagged up when applying for a part-time job at a local football club at the age of 17 and later when he applied for a university course in sports studies.
An urgent reform of the Criminal Records Bureau is required. This case highlights how the Coalition’s reforms have not gone far enough and the CRB system continues to lead to absurd results in too many cases, including thousands of people being wrongly branded criminals.
The Home Office’s has described the ruling as being ‘disappointing’ and that ‘the protection of children and vulnerable groups must not be compromised’. In this instance the little boys actions were clearly stupid and probably very naïve. However, it is simply disproportionate that an error of judgement made as a child should affect the jobs you apply for as an adult.
In another case, Simon Western, the Falklands veteran, had to pull out of the police and crime commissioner elections because he had received a fine for being a passenger in a stolen car at aged 14. Western warned that “so many good people” were being written off and he is pleased that “legal minds agree”.
The CRB system needs reforming not only due to the disclosure process but also due to the number of errors that are made. We also recently revealed the scale in the criminal record check system highlighting that nearly 12,000 people over the past five years had been wrongly branded as criminals or had had irrelevant or inaccurate information disclosed during criminal record checks.
It has been argued that it is for the employer to make a sensible judgement about whether to hire someone when they receive the CRB check on an employee. However, what we have seen is that employers, especially in the public sector, have become so worried that they will be held responsible for their employees’ actions that they are accepting the absolute nature of the CRB.
To highlight the disproportionate nature of the system we can simply look to other countries in Europe, where laws prevent employers being told about spent or minor convictions. One example being in the Netherlands, where fines of 100 euros or less given for minor crimes are not treated as criminal convictions for the purposes of a CRB check,
As the Magistrates Association has warned, the use of cautions is spiralling out of control, denying victims punishment where it is warranted and ruining the careers of people who have committed trivial indiscretions. It is absolutely right that children and vulnerable people are kept safe, however if a person has been deemed to be a danger to the public by the police they should have received a criminal conviction rather than a caution.
The system of cautions and the system of criminal record checks need fundamental reform, starting with a legal right for minor offences to be wiped from police records after a reasonable period of time. The judges involved in the caser have now said that it is up to Parliament to devise a ‘proportionate’ scheme. Reforms should start with a legal right for minor offences to be wiped from police records after a reasonable period of time.