Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Police records and natural justice

In the wake of greater awareness of child abuse, its pretty common nowdays for people who will be working with children to have to go through a basic police background check as a condition of employment. And that seems pretty reasonable. If someone has a criminal conviction for child molestation, its the sort of thing an employer in e.g. the education industry should probably know about. But in the UK, they go further. There, those working with children are required to have an "enhanced criminal record disclosure", which includes not just convictions, cautions, reprimands and warnings, but also "any relevant and proportionate information held by the local police forces".

What exactly is "relevant and proportionate information"? According to a case just decided in the UK, it is not just acquittals and misconduct falling short of a criminal offence, but any allegations that they have heard, regardless of how weak and unsubstantiated. The court explicitly rejected a low threshold of "reasonable suspicion" - the basic threshold for arrest, but well short of bringing charges, let alone conviction - in favour of a requirement that the information could not be dismissed as "necessarily untrue".

Think about that for a moment. This is a standard of "evidence" even lower than that of the NZ SIS. UK police will basically be reporting untested gossip (or even gossip they have rejected as probably bullshit, but not necessarily untrue), with no opportunity for it to be challenged or contested, and people will be losing their jobs and having their careers ruined as a result. It might possibly make a few children safer - but its an absolute disaster for natural justice.