Criminal record checks

7th September 2007 at 01:00
Nearly half of head teachers responding to a recent survey reported that they had been subject to a false allegation, usually of assault. While this is a problem for all teachers, school leaders are particularly vulnerable because of their responsibility for discipline.

When applying to the Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) for an enhanced disclosure certificate, which adults working with children may be required to do before taking up a new post, school leaders are sometimes shocked to find references in the section marked 'other relevant information' to allegations they feel were manifestly ill-founded and often malicious.

There is no independent appeal process open to applicants who dispute the inclusion in this "relevant information" section. Under the CRB's own disputes procedure the police force which made the decision to include the additonal information could be asked to reconsider. Whilst complaints of inaccuracy or misidentification seem to be dealt with efficiently, complaints about the inclusion of references to allegations have met with limited success.

Home Office guidance says: "Information should only be disclosed if there is a clear reason to believe that it is or might be relevant." The former Lord Chief Justice, Lord Woolf, said in a judicial review case referred to in the guidance that "the Chief Constable was under a duty to disclose if the information might be relevant, unless there was some good reason for not making such a disclosure".

The guidance also states: "The key purpose is not a general "character assessment ... but to consider the risk or likelihood of an offence being committed against the vulnerable". However, in two judicial review cases the court said that "other relevant information" is not limited to potential criminal activity.

So what can an applicant do when he or she receives a certificate and feels it includes "relevant information" which is inappropriate? Certainly, it is worth using the CRB's own disputes procedure and the National Association of Head Teachers is discussing with the bureau the possibility of introducing independent scrutiny of disputes.

Simon Thomas

Solicitor, National Association of Head Teachers

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