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UK Supremes question vetting scheme

New rules for enhanced CRB checks

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Britain's top judges have warned that new background checks to vet millions of adults for contact with children carry a "real risk" of infringing human rights and undermining public confidence in protection measures.

The comments about the Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA) were made today as a nursery worker who lost her job because of an enhanced CRB check lost her case against the police.

Although the new Supreme Court ruled that the police were right to disclose she had once been accused of neglecting her child because it was directly relevant to her work, it sounded a strong note of caution about the ISA in its judgement.

In future, "the police must give due weight to the applicant's right to respect for her private life" the judges said, and chief constables should allow individuals to make representations before making an enhanced CRB disclosure.

They extended their concerns over government vetting to the ISA, which will call on the existing CRB system.

"The widespread concern about the compulsory registration rules for all those having regular contact with children, as proposed by the Government in September 2009, demonstrates that there is a real risk that, unless child protection procedures are proportionate and contain adequate safeguards, they will not merely fall foul of the Convention [on human rights], but they will rebound to the disadvantage of the very group they are designed to shield, and will undermine public confidence in the laudable exercise of protecting the vulnerable," wrote Lord Neuberger, one of the panel of five judges considering the case.

The nursery worker, referred to by the Court as "L", attempted to sue the Met under the Human Rights Act, arguing that the enhanced CRB disclosure had infringed her right to privacy.

Enhanced CRB checks allow disclosure of investigations that never led to a charge. They are used for occupations that involve contact with children and vulnerable people.

Although she lost, the woman's solicitor said she welcomed the judgement because it would mean more care will be taken by police in future.

Liberty also welcomed the ruling.

"The Supreme Court has thankfully brought some wisdom and balance to the current frenzy around employment vetting. At a time when more people than ever before have been made subject to CRB checks, and the police seek to hold information forever, this judgment strikes a welcome note of caution and fairness," said legal officer Anna Fairclough.

"Our children are better protected by a rational and balanced scheme than by one that disclosed gossip and rumour without safeguards."

The full judgement is here (pdf). ®

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