A young man appealing against the contents of an Enhanced Criminal Records Certificate (ECRC) – a CRB check – which revealed a police warning given to him when he was just 11 years of age, has failed in his High Court appeal against it. TheOpinionSite.org suggests that this ‘one strike and you are out’ system is creating a whole underclass of citizen whose entire lives may be affected by a silly mistake made as a young child. It also smacks of an uncompromising and authoritarian regime.
Yesterday, the High Court(Kenneth Parker J) gave judgement in R (T) v (1) Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police, (2) Secretary of State for the Home Department (Secretary of State for Justice an interested party)  EWHC 147 (Admin). The judgement is available here: T_v_Greater_Manchester_Police.
In July 2002, the Claimant was 11 years old. He received a warning (a private procedure, under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998) from Greater Manchester Police for the theft of two bicycles. His subsequent conduct was apparently exemplary. By section 113B of the Police Act 1997, Enhanced Criminal Record Certificates (ECRCs) must contain all convictions, cautions and warnings. The Claimant, a 20-year old student applying for a sports studies course, obtained his ECRC in December 2010. It contained details of the bike theft warning.
He argued that the inflexible requirement under the 1997 Act for all convictions, cautions and warnings to be disclosed in ECRCs was incompatible with Article 8 of the ECHR.
The case illustrates the nightmare that the CRB system has become. Essentially, if you have any cause to be formally warned or reprimanded by the police when you are a child 10 years of age or older, that will constitute a criminal record for the purposes of CRB checks and could possible prevent you from ever working, obtaining insurance or even potentially dis-allow you from volunteering.
The Claimant also sought to challenge the lawfulness of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 (Exceptions) Order 1975 – which removes, in certain circumstances, the protections concerning spent convictions. This claim failed for the same reasons. Kenneth Parker J added this notable observation:
“In these circumstances I do not believe that there is any real independent issue about the legality of the Order under Article 8 ECHR. The conclusion must be the same. However, I should perhaps add that the reverse argument does not necessarily apply. In other words, even if it were disproportionate under Article 8 ECHR for the state to disclose, say, a warning long ago given to a child for a minor criminal matter, it would not automatically be an infringement if the state permitted a private employer to enquire about all criminal convictions, to insist on truthful answers and to take appropriate action in response to the answers given.”
It would seem that despite the government’s proposed limited and cosmetic changes to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act and CRB regime, there is still no place for common sense.
Given that the UK has so much Law and that it is almost impossible now to go through life without falling foul of it somewhere along the way, the inevitable conclusion will eventually be that whole swathes of the population will be branded as criminals for ever. Whilst this may afford the present and successive governments some short term gain, it is almost certainly not in the best interests of society as a whole.
It is, according to official figures, already the case that 30% or more of all working age men have a criminal record of one sort or another. If when a CRB check is carried out every warning and reprimand is to be revealed as well as every offence, that percentage will increase significantly and very rapidly.
What is even more ridiculous, as TheOpinionSite.org has pointed out on many occasions, is that CRB checks were introduced in the wake of the Soham murders in an attempt to protect children and vulnerable adults from so-called ‘stranger danger’. The result instead has been to create vulnerable, unemployed individuals who are prevented from living what most people would regard as a ‘normal’ life, often as a result of some infraction of the law that took place very many years previously.
Although the judge in this most recent case was clearly unhappy at having to dismiss the application against the CRB certificate, he stated that his hands were tied by the law. However, he did go on to say:
“… a system that allows no exceptions imposes a very heavy cost in terms of effect on the fundamental rights protected by Article 8 ECHR. I am not persuaded that the marginal benefit that a system which admits no exceptions brings to, admittedly important, competing interests is justified as a matter of proportionality when the serious detrimental effects of such a system, particularly on child offenders, are weighed in the balance. A system that permitted exceptions would probably be more prone to error, but only marginally so if the criteria for review were themselves conservative and risk averse. The consequential improvement to the protection of Article 8 rights on the other hand, would be likely to be substantial.”
TheOpinionSite.org believes that the government should take heed of this warning or risk having to rule over a nation of branded criminals. Whilst such a prospect may previously have been thought of as being ridiculous, the fact is that such a situation is appearing in reality.
Mr Justice Parker was clearly unhappy at the present situation; unhappy enough in fact to grant the student leave to appeal.
Britain’s obsession with criminals and its almost insatiable lust for locking people up will eventually be its downfall if measures are not taken to seriously address the current situation quickly.
As ministers do nothing other than produce more and more laws to break, so the UK will continue to have the unenviable reputation of being the country in the EU which locks more people up than any other, has more life sentenced and indeterminate sentenced prisoners than all the other countries of the EU put together and now allows minor errors made as a child to prevent people from working, paying taxes and contributing to the community.
To their shame, history shows that the British have always loved to persecute others. Now that no other country takes Britain seriously any more (can you blame them?), it seems that the only course left for our rulers is to persecute their own people.
So much for democracy and a ‘fair and just’ society.