An alarming or encouraging change, depending on your point of view, has infiltrated and percolated through the legislature in dribs and drabs over the last 15 years or so. Although I refer to the UK, there are parallels with this throughout European and North American legislative changes.
This is about our fundamental human rights vs the right of the State to actively interfere with those rights, in the most insidious and possibly disturbing way.
I am no conspiracy theorist, merely a slightly concerned lawyer who is wondering where our freedoms and rights as individuals stand in the 21st Century.
I won’t engage in lengthy political or philosophical diatribes but simply illustrate by example something that I have noticed is impinging on more and more individuals’ lives.
For some years we had the Criminal Records Bureau in the UK, which actively regulated and controlled the disclosure of criminal convictions in many sensitive employment issues.
All criminal sentences carry some tariff whereby an offender could be “Rehabilitated” after a specified period of time. Once the rehabilitation period had passed, then an individual would be free to declare to a potential employer that they had no previous convictions. Such verification would be carried out through the auspices of the CRB.
This system worked well enough until it was realised that certain jobs involved working with the vulnerable. This encompassed children, the aged, care home patients, hospital patients, the disabled, and those suffering from mental health issues. Those worries were also further extended to public service, medical, police, security, and legal appointments.
It was decided that the principles of rehabilitation extended by the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 needed to be curbed for certain designated types of employment.
To be fair this change was in part brought about by the shocking Soham murders, whereby 2 young infant girls were murdered at the hands of the school caretaker of the girls’ own primary school. After the disgust of these awful murders had turned into a public enquiry, particularly in relation to the murderer’s past (but spent) criminal record, it was felt that the whole system of rehabilitation needed redefining.
And so certain employment areas could enquire as to the background of potential employees without rehabilitation by statute taking effect.
However, like all things, and all governments, there is the need to continually refine and modify systems in place.
Today the Criminal Records Bureau, which became the Criminal Records Office is now the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS for short) and their powers have grown beyond the simple disclosure of convictions. Their disclosure powers have extended to disclosure of cautions, reprimands, warnings and even “suspicion” as matters suitable for disclosure to employers in the sensitive areas described above.
Many will welcome this “belt and braces” approach to the scrutiny of employees in sensitive areas of the work place; however this Big Brother approach has led to a growing number of outrageous decisions and this is best illustrated by these following actual cases.
Case 1; A happily married family man from Guildford working as a Senior Sales executive for a successful engineering company, based in Surrey, had occasion to visit a large retail customer in South Wales on a regular basis, usually once per month. He would travel early in the morning, meet with the customer at 10 am, and complete his visit just before lunch. A creature of habit he would bring a packed lunch, but naturally, preferred a quieter spot away from the main highway, to enjoy his break before the long trek back to Surrey.
Sure enough, a suitable quiet layby revealed itself and our man would eat his lunch.
On his next monthly visit, remembering his lunch spot, he parked in the same place, and the same applied for his third visit except that during this third visit a tapping noise on his window caused him to break from his sandwich. A police officer first took his details and advised the man that attention had been drawn to his vehicle because it had been noted as parking at that specific location previously (presumably via the cctv urban system, or ANPR---Automatic Number Plate Recognition cameras) and of course the police had been alerted because the parking spot overlooked a childrens’ primary school.
The man was slightly perturbed but said nothing, but in fact he had not even noticed the school, let alone known that parking there may represent a concern for the authorities.
He thought no more about this incident.
Some months later his daughter’s primary school Headmaster put out a call for parents to volunteer to accompany a forthcoming weekend camping trip to make up sufficient adult: child ratios to satisfy the Health and Safety standards set by the Department of Education. Our man volunteered but was notified by the Headmaster that a DBS check would have to be carried out.
A few weeks passed and the man was called to the Headmaster. His DBS had been returned stating that he was “spoken to” by the Police in South Wales regarding suspicious behaviour related to paedophile activity in and around areas where young vulnerable people congregated.
This was an authoritative, persuasive document produced by a government agency and held on record by the police and any interested government department, and completely unknown to that man until revealed by the arbitrary search carried out for the school trip.