The UK is currently hurtling towards an unexpected General Election, the first December election in decades. Across the nation, thousands of candidates are standing in 650 constituencies. The deadline for registering to stand as a candidate has passed, so you can now check who’s standing in your area and decide who to vote for. If your current MP is standing down, then you may be unfamiliar with all the people who are campaigning for your vote. How do you know they’re trustworthy – do all MPs need a DBS check?
Legal Requirements and Regulated Activity
There are three different levels of disclosure checks in the UK. These are organised by the Disclosure and Barring Service in England and Wales, AccessNI in Northern Ireland and Disclosure Scotland north of the border. Anyone can get a basic check for any reason, at any time. The more detailed levels of checking – standard and enhanced – are reserved for certain occupations. These jobs are known as “regulated activity” and are defined in law. The category covers jobs which are in positions of responsibility, or involve looking after vulnerable people. Although it could be argued that being a Member of Parliament is one of the most responsible jobs around, a prospective MP does not need a disclosure check.
Change in the Law?
As far back as 2016, the Labour Party lobbied for a change in the legislation to allow parties to apply for enhanced DBS checks on anyone standing as a parliamentary candidate. An enhanced check reveals a greater level of detail than other types of check, and might show up convictions and cautions which are spent in other circumstances. The Labour Party proposed changes in the law after it emerged that one of their prospective parliamentary candidates at the last election had convictions for violence against his wife. Labour argues that the everyday work of a MP involves coming into regular contact with vulnerable people, whether that be children, patients in hospital or the elderly. In order for DBS checks to be done however, the law would have to be changed to reflect this. Given that the overriding priority of any new government will be Brexit, it’s unlikely that we’ll see a change any time soon.
Basic DBS Checks
Anyone can apply for a basic DBS check and there is nothing to stop a MP or candidate applying for this level of disclosure. However, a basic DBS will only show up the most recent or most serious convictions on someone’s record. Under rehabilitation legislation, offenders have the right to leave their most distant convictions behind them and make a fresh start. Nobody would argue that it’s fair to still be disclosing a teenage shoplifting charge when you’re in your 50s and have a thirty year unblemished record in the interim. So even if your MP does have a basic DBS certificate which appears to be clear, that doesn’t mean they have a blank police record. Furthermore, almost a third of adult men do have a criminal record, and it could be argued that life experience may make them a better MP.