DBS Checks and Human Rights

The law about police checks is constantly changing. It doesn’t seem too long ago that we were talking about CRB checks. Then the organisation morphed into the Disclosure and Barring Service, or DBS. Over the years, there has been a growing concern that DBS checks were infringing human rights. This is because some of the more detailed DBS checks might reveal information which is considered “spent” under other circumstances. Charities and campaign groups for ex-offenders have recently brought a case to the Supreme Court. Could this totally change the way we think about protecting children and vulnerable adults?

What did the court say?

The recent Supreme Court ruling confirmed another ruling back in 2015. The judges confirmed that the current way in which DBS checks are done is incompatible with the Human Rights Act. The court recognised that there is a difficult balance to strike. On one hand, the DBS has to consider the rights of children and vulnerable adults. They have to do whatever they can to stop unsuitable people from being employed in positions of trust. On the other hand, the rights of the person with the criminal record have to be respected too. The Supreme Court felt that it was intrinsically unfair that very old convictions were still showing up on DBS checks many years or decades later.

The one thing the court didn’t suggest was a solution. They did recommend that the final decision about whether a conviction is relevant or not should be down to the employer rather than the Police or DBS. They also recognised that it’s impossible to develop a system which covers absolutely every eventuality and circumstance. That doesn’t really clear up much. It’s still confusing for an applicant, as they’re never quite sure what is going to be thrown up on a DBS certificate, and what isn’t. Some of the examples give by the court appear to be extreme. For example, someone who was convicted of assault after a fight in 1982 when he was still at school found that conviction on a DBS form several decades later.

What should I do if I have a criminal conviction?

The main problem – as highlighted by the Supreme Court – was that applicants can never be entirely sure of what will be disclosed and what will not. If you have a completely clear criminal record then this isn’t something you need to worry about. But a high number of UK adults do have some sort of minor criminal record, and that doesn’t have to mean that they are barred from all types of work.

Remember that it is only a small number of jobs which actually require that level of checking which could disclose very old convictions. If you’re applying for an office or retail job, you won’t need a DBS check at all. Many other occupations just need a basic check, which only discloses current convictions. If you are concerned about your criminal record, then it’s usually best to speak to your employer about it, and show you’re a changed character. And keep your eyes peeled for further changes in the law.