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DBS reform – no longer in the too difficult box?

Penelope Gibbs
04 Jul 2020

This week the Prime Minister, who often bats off issues, supported a surprising reform. At Prime Minister’s Questions he was asked by John Spellar MP to reform the disclosure and barring system (DBS). John thought it operated in a damaging and discriminatory way. Everyone who applies for a job or role which involves working with vulnerable people or children must have a DBS check – this could be to volunteer in a school or be a taxi driver. That DBS check will reveal criminal convictions and cautions dating back to when they were ten years old. The rules about what appears are incredibly complicated, but sometimes result in old quite minor misdemeanours potentially prejudicing someone’s chance of employment. Two convictions for shoplifting as a teenager will appear on a DBS record, as will a student mooning incident. A employer may be put off employing an otherwise suitable candidate because of their record.

MP John Spellar had received emails from constituents who’d signed up to the FairChecks movement – this was started by Transform Justice and Unlock in January. Since then, supporters have asked over 300 MPs to support major reform of DBS checks and of rehabilitation periods (the period after a sentence is passed during which person must declare their convictions to any prospective employer).

In PMQs, the Prime Minister was emphatic about the need for reform. This is surprising given the issue has been buried for ten years and the law has been tweaked only in response to strategic litigation. What’s left is a system so complex that probably only one person – my colleague @chrisstacey – really understands it all. But Boris Johnson acknowledged that every MP has had representations from constituents who feel they have been unfairly treated by the DBS system and that “we should look at it urgently”. Lets hope this is a new dawn.