The blight of enhanced CRBs returns

The case of T, R (on the application of) v Greater Manchester Police & Anor [2012] EWHC 147 (Admin) (09 February 2012) concerns a student who had single entry on his otherwise unblemished enhanced CRB: at age 11 he received a police warning for bicycle theft.

Problems with enhanced CRBs are a recurrent theme among issues I am asked to advise on. The bottom line is that they have always been difficult to challenge, but a 2009 court ruling (see my blog post at the time) did seem to offer some hope of a remedy. The main problem with that remedy is that so far as I can see, the police have largely concluded it doesn’t affect them. Therefore, they do not routinely offer a right of reply before doing the damage.

Enhanced CRBs offer real potential for real injustice. Here is why: they include information, the accuracy of which has never been tested, and never will be tested. Just imagine (if you have to imagine – this has happened to real people I know!) that you are arrested upon suspicion of an offence. The police, after investigation, for any number of reasons decide not to prosecute. They can and do still include the information on enhanced CRBs. It may well relate to a very serious crime. Indeed, it is more likely to be included if the crime is more serious, as the test for inclusion is effectively its potential relevance to the purpose for which the enhanced CRB is sought.

So the enhanced CRB alludes to your having been under suspicion of a very serious offence, of which you may be entirely innocent. Guess what? It can stop your career in its tracks. And since you are innocent, you will want vindication. But you can’t get it, because there is no forum in which to get vindication. The reality is, that you are worse off than if you had been prosecuted and stood trial.

The truth is, attacking the content may not be the best line of attack, because of the legal difficulty doing so. There are at least two other remedies to consider:

  • the decision to go for enhanced instead of standard CRB in the first place. The circumstances in which they are permitted are strictly prescribed, but this is frequently overlooked in a risk-averse age which says “belt and braces is best”;
  • the use that is made of the enhanced CRB by the organisation to whom it is directed. The police line is usually that it is for the recipient to test the information, not the police, but rarely is this done.

Back to the case of T. In his case, it was a warning that was included. Untested; but unlike the situation described above, at least the warning was accepted at the time. In my experience, that may not be equivalent to an admission of guilt. It may follow legal advice that it would be pragmatic to accept a warning rather than the hassle of a trial – advice that is unlikely to have borne in mind the hassle caused to your study a decade later.

But even assuming there was an admission of guilt, T’s case was that bringing up his childhood misdemeanours so much later infringed his human rights. The court was sympathetic, but bound by precedent. The real alert, I think, needs to be that the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act is plainly powerless to prevent the blight of enhanced CRBs upon the rehabilitation of offenders.

Allan Norman is a registered social worker and a solicitor at Celtic Knot.