The government has announced that it is re-thinking the Vetting and Barring Scheme, saying that it “…. recognises that many businesses, community groups and individuals see the current scheme as disproportionate and overly burdensome, and that it unduly infringes on civil liberties“.
The scheme was introduced in England and Wales under the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006. That Act was passed in reaction to the Soham murders which led to the June 2004 Bichard report and the uproar when it was disclosed that even after that the Department for Education had cleared a particular individual whose name was on a sex offenders’ register to work as a PE teacher.
Although the Tory party gave backing to the Act when it was a Bill, Theresa May (now the coalition government Home Secretary) explained on the Today programme on 15 June 2010 that defects in the Act have become apparent. She cited the Act as an example of the law of unintended consequences. In particular, the requirement that people must register with the newly established Independent Safeguarding Authority if they are going to work with children or vulnerable adults has led to grave concern that many volunteers will simply withdraw their help. Worthwhile activities such as after-school clubs might simply cease to function.
The underlying approach has been criticised on the basis that it effectively assumes that all voluntary helpers should be treated as paedophiles unless they have been vetted – the opposite of the more common sense position that everyone is “innocent unless proved guilty”.
The immediate practical implication of the Government rethink is to halt the next stage in implementaton of the VBS. Voluntary registration for new employees and job-movers working or volunteering with children and vulnerable adults was due to start on 26 July 2010. This has now been stopped. However as yet, there has been no announcement that the next stage, a requirement that as from 1 November 2010 all new employees and volunteers doing such work must be registered, will also be stopped.
Those parts of the scheme which have already been implemented remain in force. In particular:
- The Independent Safeguarding Authority (“ISA”) is not being wound up;
- It is a criminal offence for an employer knowingly to employ a barred person (and for a barred person to apply to work with children or vulnerable adults) in many posts;
- Employers must notify the ISA if they dismiss or move an employee because of “vulnerable groups” concerns or consider that the employee poses a risk;
Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) and Access Northern Ireland checks remain. So do the two new lists of barred individuals which replaced the previous POVA, POCA and List 99 in October 2009.
The Scottish government, meanwhile, is pressing ahead. The Scottish government announced on 29th June 2010 that its scheme to “safeguard vulnerable groups and simplify and speed up the disclosure process will come into effect from November 30th“.