Recent research carried out into the criminal records system suggests that the way in which criminal records are dealt with adversely impacts the rehabilitation of ex-offenders due to the level of irrelevant information that is frequently provided. Figures released in response to a freedom of information request by the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies suggest that just one out of every 197 criminal record checks reveals information that is relevant to the job that has been applied for.

Relevant criminal records

A DBS check will currently reveal a depth of information dependent upon the level of check requested. The lowest grade, the basic DBS, will only reveal unspent convictions or cautions, whereas standard and advanced will reveal a greater level of detail. The concern highlighted by the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies is that there were hundreds of thousands of disclosures that related to historic offences – crimes committed a decade or longer ago.

Whilst requests for criminal record checks at the standard and advanced levels have historically only been requested for employers who are recruiting for positions of trust, such as teachers, solicitors or care workers, it has always been possible for any employer to request a basic DBS check if their employees will have or are likely to have some sort of contact with vulnerable adults or children. The charity Unlock, which works with ex-offenders, has reported that individuals have been asked to obtain standard or enhanced disclosure checks for roles such as a receptionist or delivery driver. It has become easier to obtain this information, as companies such as can do same day DBS checks.

Stricter rules on disclosure

Since 2013, the filtering of convictions revealed on a DBS check has meant that old and very minor cautions and convictions that have not resulted in a term of imprisonment will not be revealed; however, whenever an individual has received more than one conviction, their entire criminal record must be revealed.

As a result of these identified issues, there have been calls for reform of the law. One suggestion has been the creation of a separate tribunal to deal solely with whether particular criminal records should be disclosed. Whilst this appears to be a noble situation, whether it would work in practice is an entirely different matter.