UK Government Challenges Ruling Finding Criminal Record Disclosure System Unlawful
The government is challenging a court ruling which said forcing people to disclose minor criminal convictions to employers violates human rights laws.
The Court of Appeal found the programme may have been have been disproportionate and unnecessary in some cases, taking objection to a rule stating anyone with more than one conviction, no matter how minor, must disclose them to potential employers when applying for certain types of work.
One of the claimants involved is a woman named in proceedings as P, who shoplifted a sandwich and a 99p book which she believed was sending her messages while suffering from undiagnosed schizophrenia in 1999.
The second conviction came when she failed to answer bail for the crime, and she was later given a conditional discharge for both offences.
Human rights group Liberty, which represents P, said she had committed no offences since and aimed to work as a teaching assistant.
The current rules mean she would have to divulge her convictions when applying and reveal details of her medical history in order to explain the circumstances.
“No one should be left at such a huge disadvantage when applying for work because of very minor mistakes they made nearly two decades ago when they were unwell,” P said.
Appeal judges have already backed the High Court’s finding the current scheme was “not in accordance” with laws protecting the right to private life under the European Convention on Human Rights.
But lawyers for the home and justice secretary have taken the case onwards to the Supreme Court, where they are appealing to judges to overturn last year’s finding.
“The current rules are unnecessary, disproportionate and unfair. They have left me and so many others unable to move on with our lives, achieve our aims and contribute to our communities. I hope the Supreme Court will agree with the High Court and Court of Appeal and make the government take long-overdue action to reform the system.”
Her solicitor, Rosie Brighouse, said her client simply wants to move on with her life and is “unable to do so”.
“The criminal records disclosure scheme has twice been ruled unlawful – but instead of putting in place the urgent reform that’s so desperately needed, the government has chosen to fight this all the way to the Supreme Court,” she added.
“We hope judges will agree that this situation is deeply unfair and disproportionate, and that it’s time for the government to put things right.”
The Disclosure and Barring Service was established in 2012 to provide details of a job applicant’s previous convictions to prospective employers.
For certain types of work, such as with children or vulnerable adults, the standard or enhanced certificates issued by the DBS listed all the job applicant’s previous convictions until reforms in 2013 following another case against Greater Manchester Police.
A “filtering” process meant single convictions for non-sexual offences which were not violent and did not lead to an immediate prison sentence, would not be disclosed after 11 years, or five-and-a-half years if the person was under 18.
But the exemption does not apply if someone has more than one conviction, whatever the circumstances.
A Public Accounts Committee inquiry accused the Home Office of running a “masterclass in incompetence” over its attempts to improve the DBS scheme after finding an IT modernisation programme was four years late and £229m over budget.
Liberty is calling for the introduction of a more flexible system which considers individual circumstances in cases of old and minor convictions, and considers a person’s risk of harm.
Unlock, a charity representing people with criminal convictions, is also intervening in the case.
Co-director Christopher Stacey said the current system has “harsh consequences and damaging effects on individuals”.
He added: “It deters people from applying for employment, and for those that do apply it brings high levels of stress, anxiety and feelings of shame and stigma. It acts as an additional sentence that often runs for life.”
The home and justice secretaries, represented by Sir James Eadie QC, argue the case of P and three other claimants being considered by the Supreme Court represent only a small number of complex incidents at the margins of the scheme.
They claimed in P’s case, there is a pattern of offending which justifies disclosure.
The hearing, before five justices, is expected to last for three days and their judgement will be reserved.