Summary and implications
This month, the Protection of Freedoms Bill was introduced to Parliament. This Bill is designed to implement the outcome of its recent review on vetting and barring (introduced by the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006) and criminal records. In short, the Government intends to scale back the existing legislation protecting vulnerable groups to “common sense levels”.
A summary of the recommended changes are as follows:
- The state body should continue to provide a barring function to help employers protect those at risk from people who seek to do them harm via work or volunteering roles;
- The Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) and Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA) should be merged and a single Non-Departmental Public Body or Agency created to provide a barring and criminal records disclosure service;
- The new barring regime should cover only those who may have regular or close contact with vulnerable groups;
- Barring should continue to apply to both paid and unpaid roles;
- Automatic barring should apply for those serious offences which provide a clear and direct indication of risk;
- Registration should be scrapped – there should be no requirement for people to register with the scheme and there will be no ongoing monitoring;
- The information used by the state barring body (currently the ISA) to make a barring decision should be serious in nature;
- Criminal records disclosures should continue to be available to employers and voluntary bodies but should be revised to become portable through the introduction of a system which allows for continuous updating;
- The new regime should retain current arrangements for referrals to the state barring body (currently the ISA) by employers and certain regulatory bodies, in circumstances where individuals have demonstrated a risk of harm to children or vulnerable adults;
- The current appeals arrangements should be retained;
- The state barring body should be given a power to vary review periods in appropriate circumstances;
- Services relating to criminal records disclosure and barring provisions should be self-financing;
- The new system will retain two offences; it will continue to be an offence for a barred person to work with vulnerable groups in regulated activity roles. It will also be an offence for an employer or voluntary 5 organisation knowingly to employ a barred person in a regulated activity role; and
- Finally, the Government should raise awareness of safeguarding issues and should widely promote the part everyone has to play in ensuring proper safeguarding amongst employers, volunteer organisations, families and the wider community.
These are the “headline” recommendations. The items highlighted above relate specifically to the concerns raised in our December 2010 article “The Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006 – a step too far?” Importantly, if the Bill is subsequently enacted, the Government intends to abandon the previous concept of “controlled activity” which was burdensome, confusing and unnecessary. This would mean, amongst other things, that staff working in data processing centres that have the technical ability to access information relating to vulnerable groups will not be regulated. ICT service providers, their public sector customers and other data processors will no doubt be letting out a sigh of relief at this breaking news. However, since the Bill has only just been introduced to Parliament, the proposals are not yet set in stone. Needless to say, we will be keeping a close eye on the progress of the Bill through Parliament.
The full “Remodelling Review” can be found by clicking here.