The granting of effective pardons to deceased men convicted of ‘homosexual offences’ prior to the decriminalisation of homosexual acts between consenting adults in 1967 may be deemed a Good Thing by those who have long promoted such an event; but when one considers the thousands incarcerated in British prisons on such charges before the long overdue change to the law, it’s worth remembering how many of them are still with us. For them, this is little more than an empty gesture. Any amendments to the change to include the living on the list of the exonerated – and the potential minefield of whether a post-1967 conviction for sex with any man under the then-consenting age of 21 could be wiped from the records – were prevented by cynical filibustering. Apparently, one can always apply to the Home Office, but I suppose that august department knows most of those applying will probably be six feet under by the time the paperwork is completed.
Convictions of the non-dead for homosexual offences both before and after 1967 remain on their CVs, and thanks to the advent of CRB (now DBS) checks, the one-time crimes that death would erase the existence of retain the power to prevent the living from working in any profession in which contact with society’s ‘vulnerable’ is paramount. Even the Rehabilitation Offenders Act 1974, which introduced a time limit on a past criminal conviction so that it would cease to be a blot on an individual’s future career chances after a specified period of rehabilitation, included numerous caveats in the shape of exemption from it where certain professions are concerned.
However, a system of scrutiny that once only applied to ex-cons now encompasses a far wider section of the population. A criminal check on a prospective employee, as with a credit check by a bank, is regarded by the advocates of the system as a sensible precaution, though many others may see it as an infringement of their civil liberties that places them under unwarranted suspicion, faced with an interminable wait for the process to clear a name that didn’t require clearing in the first place. Doctors, nurses, teachers, youth-workers and care-workers (to name just a few) are all under this suspicion until their innocence has been established.
Anybody passing a Disclosure and Barring Service check is awarded with a certificate that essentially proclaims ‘I am officially not a Paedo or pervert’, confirmation that the individual the system presumes to be guilty is actually innocent. In a Court of Law, the onus is not on the defence to prove the accused didn’t commit the crime they’ve been charged with, but on the prosecution to prove they did – and beyond reasonable doubt. When it comes to a DBS check, the process works the other way round. It temporarily criminalises great swathes of the workforce, marooning them in an unemployable limbo for months, keeping them hanging on for the moment when they receive notification that they are not what they knew they weren’t all along.
Following several high-profile cases whereby a genuine rapist/Paedo/murderer slipped through the net and committed their favourite crime again, the restrictions imposed by DBS checks have been tightened to such a degree that the implication for anyone having to endure a DBS check is that these rare occasions are judged to be the rule rather than the exception. Primary schools are struggling to recruit male teachers as a consequence, and it has also had a detrimental effect on organisations like the Girl Guides, who are suffering a shortage of adult volunteers. Who would even want to work with children under such circumstances?
Putting the private business of employers and employees in the hands of an institution as corrupt and untrustworthy as the Police Force was destined to be a recipe for disaster. One may as well hand over the running of social media to the Stasi. Ten years ago, the Home Office revealed almost 3,000 people had been accidentally labelled as criminals following CRB checks, whereas it emerged in 2009 that any minor contact with police, even when there wasn’t so much as a caution involved, would be present on an individual’s ‘Enhanced’ CRB or DBS file (the one reserved for those seeking to work with children, the elderly or disabled adults). So, if you once had to give your name and address to a woodentop when he saw you waiting for a taxi and judged you to be loitering before moving you on, it’ll be in there.
There is also an immense backlog of checks building up as the net widens to include more professions. Recent statistics exposed the worst performing Force when it came to backlogs; it was – surprise, surprise – the Met; another persistent offender, the South Yorkshire Police Force, was also in the top five. Last year it was reported that as many as 150,000 people with jobs lined-up were prevented from beginning these jobs due to DBS checks taking upwards of four months – and this despite Police Forces being set a target of processing at least 85% of applications over a period of 14 days. Labour blames the delays on Tory cuts, but it would hardly make much difference whoever happened to be running the country. The system itself is the problem.
Mind you, if you’ve already been through the process and are keen to move to another job in the same sector, it’s now possible (for the annual sum of £13) to re-use the same DBS certificate you were awarded last time round; move into another sector, however, and you’ll have to go through it all over again.
We have allowed the powers-that-be to criminalise us because we’ve been gullible enough to swallow the ‘it’s for your own good and the good of your children’ guff, and look where it has left us – suspicious, wary, mistrustful, seeing only the bad in people, encouraged to snoop and snitch, leaving vital professions under-staffed and starved of those who could make a massive difference; but, hey, some dead men convicted of things that were actually illegal at the time can now rest easy in their graves, so we can be proud of our country once again.
© The Editor