Criminal record checks could hit over 14 million people

New CRB regs produce a nation of suspects

Despite the lengthy consultation that preceded this new legislation, and the eight month gap between its introduction and penultimate reading in the Commons, the government still managed to produce some 250 separate amendments to it shortly before that debate in October 2006. Some clauses received less than a minute's consideration - others received none at all. As Tory Shadow Minister for the Family, Maria Miller observed, it was "difficult to understand why so many Government amendments were tabled at the eleventh hour". Translation: 'I am hopping mad. I suspect you have pulled a fast one. But I can't do a thing about it.'

This law attempts the almost unimaginable: to regulate those instances and those circumstances in which trust might arise between a 'vulnerable person' and another individual. In recent criticism of the Act, Professor Frank Furedi describes this development as tragic, as though this was accidental. In fact, as the government has made clear, in a recent consultation paper (s 3.2) the intention is to regulate all instances where trust might arise.

I've got a little list

The thinking behind the SVGA is clear. There will be regulated activities. There will be a list of people barred from participating in regulated activity. There will be a board, the Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA), charged with maintaining that list and, ultimately, deciding whether an individual should go on that list. All decisions will in future make use of "soft" information, of the sort now made available via an enhanced CRB check.

Delays in implementation mean that this will not be in place before 2009, with full roll-out expected over a five-year period.

An important feature of this scheme is its arms-length relationship with government. The Secretary of State may tinker with 'guidance', amending what counts as regulated activity or activity worthy of barring: but they will not be directly responsible. This reflects even more recent history, when Education Secretary, Ruth Kelly, came in for a great deal of stick over her Department's decision not to bar Sex Offenders in all circumstances from educational work.

The $64,000 question is just how many will be barred - and whether this will affect you. Ultimately, says the government, 11.3 million people will need to be on the list. (see link for the rationale behind this figure). This was a mere 2-2.5 million higher than the previous answer, provided in early 2006.

Any process of estimation that can inflate by nearly 30 per cent in less than two years must be subject to a degree of suspicion - and this is clearly one of them. The problem can be tracked back to three separate trends. Project creep, back protection and the voluntary sector.

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