Unlock responds to Law Commission review of DBS filtering system – “is a damning indictment….a wider review is needed now more than ever”

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In a detailed report published today, the Law Commission has recommended a wider review of the criminal record disclosure system.

In the most comprehensive operational assessment of the DBS filtering process to date, their conclusion is that:

“Given the vast array and magnitude of the problems identified by our provisional assessment of the disclosure system as a whole, there is a compelling case to be made in favour of a wider review. Our conclusion is that the present system raises significant concerns in relation to ECHR non-compliance and, what may be considered to be, the overly harsh outcomes stemming from a failure to incorporate either proportionality or relevance into disclosure decisions. An impenetrable legislative framework and questions of legal certainty further compound the situation. This is an area of law in dire need of thorough and expert analysis. A mere technical fix is not sufficient to tackle such interwoven and large scale problems.”

Their review had a specific focus on the current ‘list of offences that cannot be filtered’. On that, the report states:

“…the choice of offences in the list appears to lack coherence and a clear basis”

Because of the limited scope of the project, the report states that:

“We do not make recommendations about whether any particular offences should be added or removed from the list”

In examining the operational list, the Law Commission identified the following specific practical and operational problems:

  1. possible inaccuracy of the operational list;
  2. likely inefficiency in the system of offence codes;
  3. risk of unnecessary or inadequate disclosure;
  4. risk of the need for constant updating of the list not being met; and
  5. a lack of guidance for those answering exempted questions.

The report goes on to state that:

“Any recommendations that we made regarding the non-filterable list would clarify the contents of that list and make it more accessible for users of DBS, but more deep-seated confusion regarding the operation of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 and the exempted questions would remain. In Chapter 5 we discuss possible topics for a wider project addressing both the criminal records disclosure system and the rehabilitation of offenders scheme.”

Responding to the report, Christopher Stacey, Co-director of Unlock, said:

“Today’s report is a damning indictment of the current DBS filtering system and reinforces the concerns we’ve raised since it was first introduced in 2013. We are pleased that the Law Commission has listened to the criticisms that we and others put forward on the broader operation of the current system. Their recommendation for a wider review is needed now more than ever. The current system doesn’t go far enough: it is blunt, restrictive and disproportionate.


“These shortcomings were recognised by the High Court in January 2016, and we urge the government to withdraw their appeal and instead get to work in undertaking this wider review and finally establishing a proportionate disclosure system that is transparent, clear and fair. This will not only benefit those with old and minor cautions and convictions to move on positively with their lives, but it will also contribute towards building a fairer and more inclusive society”


Useful links

  1. You can find out more about the project the Law Commission carried out, including a copy of the report, on their website.
  2. There are details about our policy work on the DBS filtering system.
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6 Comments to “ Unlock responds to Law Commission review of DBS filtering system – “is a damning indictment….a wider review is needed now more than ever””

  1. Alison says :

    why oh why does the government continue to waste public money appealing decisions rather than just fixing the problems which would cost far less in the long run. The stupidity is astounding

  2. Dave says :

    Assuming the appeal goes ahead and fails, will the filtering system be allowed to continue in its current format whilst a new or revised system is is developed ?

  3. JASPER says :

    I am pleased to see that the Government is now going to take a good, in depth look at the DBSS (Disclosure Scotland).

    I would be most grateful if my email could find its way to the relevant person/s at UNLOCK who will work with the Government on this.

    From my point of view, I have one minor offence which was spent years ago and no longer appears on my Basic Disclosure. I am fed up to the back teeth that my conviction appears on higher Disclosures, enhanced or such like. This stops me from teaching, working with Children etc, when my conviction has no relevance to stop me from working in these professions. How can stealing a bunch of bananas from Tescos in my 30s and receiving a 1 year Community Service stop me from being a Teacher or working with children. How can this be? It isn’t fair and it isn’t right and convictions like these need to be completely removed/obliterated from higher level DBSS checks and police records. I’m in my 50s now and this old conviction keeps following me around everywhere!!!!!!!! There’s no point in saying that it is against the Law for employers not to give a person a job if convictions are spent but, we all know the answer to that one don’t we!!!

    The 1974 Act needs immediate and urgent revision to cover the above situations and I hope you can do something about this. Minor offences MUST completely be removed from all levels of DBSS checks.

  4. Tony says :

    I feel like having been given a life sentence to be honest, even though I only had a suspended sentence that based on the how CRB/DBS worked before before 2013 would have been spent and not appear on disclosures or at least I would be able to tick NO to the question ‘do you have an unspent conviction

  5. Debbie - Unlock says :

    Hi Tony

    For many jobs once your conviction becomes spent there’s no need for you to disclose it to an employer. However, it’s fair to say that there are probably more jobs which are eligible for DBS checks than people think and where you would need to disclose your spent convictions.

    Hopefully, further amendments will be introduced to the filtering legislation and many more people will be able to benefit from not having their convictions disclosed on a DBS certificate.

  6. Jim says :

    I have two minor convictions from when I was young and stupid. I stole a battery from a scrap yard when about 18 and a rear wiper blade off a crashed car. Stupidly thought better of it and got caught taking it back. Small fines for both of them. Those stupid acts have seriously impacted on my life. I am 58 now and have been out of proper work since I was made redundant. Every job I have applied for that I am suited me (because of some medical conditions) I have failed to get. I know I don’t have to disclose them but when an interviewer asks `Have you ever been convicted for a criminal offence’, you have to be honest. Couple of years ago I contacted the now PM about this. She replied through her junior minister that had it been one offence, the record is wiped – great no need to worry. But if you have more than one stupid minor offence, even though the offences were decades ago, it stays on your record. So all those jobs that require an enhanced CRB will show up the convictions. I think I have paid my dues to society, why am I still being punished for something I stupidly did when I was a skint youngster. My view is simple. The government has to alter the ROA to remove minor convictions completely after a reasonable time frame. Although I haven’t, I wonder how many other people in my group have resorted to desperate illegal acts simply because they keep failing to get a regular job of employment. This particular anomaly in the legislation must be looked at again…………..Anyone agree with me?