This High Court ruling on criminal records is only a minor win for human rights

This ruling may limit the disclosure of historic information, but what about its retention?

Share
Related Topics

My neighbour is not a Police and Crime Commissioner. I have no idea whether he would have been a good one, a bad one or somewhere in between. I shall never know. For faced with a requirement to declare that he was entirely spotless, innocent of all crime, he was forced to come clean.

Yes, Phil Dilks, former Labour County Councillor, District Councillor, Parish Councillor, 8 years a member of his local police authority, is a crim. Should I be worried? After all, he lives within sight of my front door. Or have I better things to fret over than the fact that some 44 years ago, a pillar of my local community, then aged 16, received a £5 fine after pleading guilty to “handling stolen goods”: in this case, a friend’s motorbike helmet, taken in jest and left overnight in his garage. 

That, it seems, is the gist of an eminently sensible judgment handed down by Master of the Rolls, Lord Dyson and two other judges, ruling in the Appeal Court earlier this week that current law on criminal record checking, now managed by something called the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS),  is contrary to human rights. 

Is that a sharp intake of breath I hear, as Tory backbenchers line up to condemn yet another outbreak of “political correctness gone mad”? Not to mention this awfully Europhile notion of 'human rights'. Surely not. 

After all, I’m sure his Lordship, the second highest judge in the land, has given due consideration to the matter. In this instance, he was not impressed by the case of a young man identified in court as “T”. Aged 11, he had twice received warnings from Manchester Police in connection with two stolen bicycles. Since then, the information has been disclosed on two occasions, once when applying for a job and a second time when applying for a university course. This seems something of an unfair burden to lay on a young man just setting out in life.

Lord Dyson has not condemned the DBS system root and branch. Rather, he has made a declaration that in its present form it is “disproportionate”. The point is a good one, wholly in line with a recent Government review that recommended the introduction of a filter to remove old and minor conviction information. No one - repeat: no one - is recommending the removal of information relating to serious offences, such as crimes of violence, rape or child abuse.

That, at least, is the conventional wisdom, though reality is possibly a good deal more complex.  Consternation over at the Home Office stems in large part from a toxic mix of practical consideration and culture. On the one hand, civil servants and IT analysts alike are loath to give up their data. Ever.

On the other: well, deciding what to remove and when and how is complicated; and behind those complicated debates sits the overhanging fear that if they get it wrong and another Ian Huntley slips through the intelligence net, someone’s head will be on the block.

Then, too, there is the sense in which this entire debate is sleight of hand: a three card trick in which the real target is never revealed. The retention of data is not at issue here, though many papers fail to make the distinction. We are talking disclosure only. The argument, not entirely without merit, is that the pattern of offending, including even the least offences, may prove useful in identifying future offenders. Scary stuff. Especially when one learns that in recent months, the police, under the auspices of something named “Operation Nutmeg”, have been out demanding the DNA of men convicted of the now repealed consensual offence of gross indecency..

It seems the mooted “gay amnesty”, under which those with a historic conviction for consensual gay sex would have the details removed from official records, never happened. Or, as I suggested to the Home Office at the time – ruffling not a few feathers in the process - is it simply being flagged as no longer relevant, leaving these convictions on the system for those who know how to find them?

Sadly, for all the fine words of Appeal Court judges, we are a nation wedded to our past. A mixture of fear and caution and bloody-mindedness means that we may, occasionally, decide that transforming the minor indiscretions of childhood into a sackable offence twenty years on is a step too far. But actually purge our systems of such data?  Never!

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped commission: SThree: Does earning a 6 figu...

Recruitment Genius: SEO Executive

£18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: A widow’s tale with an unexpected twist

John Rentoul
 

For all his faults, Russell Brand is utterly sincere, something politicians should emulate

Janet Street-Porter
The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss