Government plans to scale back criminal record checks could let “thousands” of dangerous individuals come into contact with children and vulnerable adults, an expert has warned.
The Home Office has confirmed that, after a “comprehensive review”, Labour’s Vetting and Barring Scheme will be scaled back to “common sense” levels. The proposals are outlined in the Freedoms Bill, laid before parliament today.
The controversial scheme would have required around nine million people who come into contact with children and vulnerable adults to register with the Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA).
Now, only those with regular, intensive contact with children and vulnerable adults will be subject to criminal record checks.
The Liberal Democrats have long been against the scheme. Deputy prime minister Nick Clegg said today: “We inherited a messy criminal records regime that developed piecemeal and defied common sense.
“The Freedoms Bill will protect millions of people from state intrusion in their private lives and mark a return to common sense government. Our reviews concluded that the systems were not proportionate and needed to be less bureaucratic.”
But Mark Williams-Thomas, a former police officer and child protection expert, told Community Care that the proposals were “ill-thought out, dangerous and absolutely mad”. He said they could make it easier for “thousands” of potentially dangerous individuals to work with children.
“The government wants to scrap schemes introduced by Labour and keep the number of people being criminal record checked as low as possible because of civil liberty concerns. These changes are based on political and ideological reasoning, not children’s safety. They show a massive, regressive step and will take us back 20 years,” he said.
Under the changes, individuals will no longer have to register with the ISA and the onus will shift to employers to ensure their staff are safe to work with children. Individuals will also be able to see their CRB checks before employers.
The government also confirmed that the ISA will merge with the Criminal Records Bureau to form a “streamlined new body providing a proportionate barring and criminal records checking service”.
In the next phase of the transition, Community Care understands that plans to omit police cautions from criminal record disclosures may be unveiled.
“The proposal that cautions will not appear on criminal record checks is dangerous. It could let through thousands of potentially dangerous people who were convicted of offences and accepted police cautions,” said Williams-Thomas.
“We have more knowledge now than ever before about how offenders operate and how they gain access to children. We know where the loopholes in the system are but these changes mean we will, knowingly, be letting offenders slip through them.”
The bill is expected to become law by early 2012, after which the new regime will be introduced as soon as possible.
Labour’s vetting and barring scheme was introduced following the high-profile Soham murders of Jessica Chapman and Holly Wells in 2002.
What do you think? Join the debate on CareSpace
Keep up to date with the latest developments in social care. Sign up to our daily and weekly emails