The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has intervened in a landmark legal case which has determined that the way the police have dealt with confidential information relating to minor offences is in breach of human rights laws protecting privacy.
The ruling means that children in particular will be protected against a minor misdemeanour potentially affecting their future employment prospects.
The case of T v Greater Manchester Police concerned a young man who, when he was eleven years old, had received two warnings from the police force after being found with two stolen bikes.
To his surprise – as he had assumed these warnings had expired and no longer needed to be declared – the warnings showed up when a potential employer and a university carried a criminal record check several years later. This almost resulted in him losing the job offer and a place on a university course despite the fact he had not been in any further trouble.
The Commission intervened in the Court to suggest changes in the way the police retain and disclose information such as cautions and warnings. This intervention was successful because of the protections provided by the right to privacy contained in article 8 of the Human Rights Act.
The Commission recognises that police records sometimes need to be used to vet people. However, this must be done in compliance with common sense and the protection of individuals’ privacy and must be fair, reasonable and proportionate.
A warning given for a relatively trivial offence committed many years ago by a child who has not re-offended has no relevance to how that person could be safely employed to work as an adult.
John Wadham, Chief Legal Officer at the Equality and Human Rights Commission said:
“Many of us have been in minor trouble with the law as children, which we regret at the time but we would not expect that to affect our ability to get a job later in life. However, if the police and other bodies can pass on this information without our knowledge it will have serious implications for our lives and careers.
“This is an important ruling to establish how the authorities deal with confidential information they hold which could have a negative impact on people’s lives
“The fact that the Court has made a declaration of incompatibility indicates the seriousness of the contravention of human rights obligations in this case, which Parliament must now correct without delay.”