Section 48 — Correction of inaccurate scheme record

Part of Protection of Vulnerable Groups (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3 – in the Scottish Parliament at 9:30 am on 8th March 2007.

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Photo of Iain Smith Iain Smith Liberal Democrat 9:30 am, 8th March 2007

The issue goes to the heart of the Bichard recommendations. After the Soham murders, an issue was raised about the failure of police forces to share soft information that they had about people and which could have been used to ensure that those people did not work with children. There is a question whether the Soham murders would have been prevented if that information had been shared, but the issue was raised and led to the Bichard inquiry and thus to the recommendations. In Scotland, we already have ways of sharing such information: POCSA and the Police Act 1997 allow for enhanced disclosures to include some soft information from police sources, with certain assurances about the reliability of the information. We have heard about the 5x5x5 check that police forces carry out into the reliability and relevance of such information.

By definition, non-conviction or soft information has not been tested in court. Therefore, information may appear on an applicant's disclosure that the applicant did not previously know existed in police records. I have examples of that from my casework. One person who applied for an enhanced disclosure check found out when the certificate came back that there was information that they had been seen to be involved in buying or selling drugs in a pub. The person denies that that ever happened, but the police held the information. The information was not disclosed to the person because the police are always gathering information about drugs activities as part of wider inquiries to try to catch dealers, so the person did not have the opportunity to challenge the accuracy of the information until they found it on their enhanced disclosure certificate. I know that I am not alone in having dealt with such cases. That person may be able to prove that they were not even in the pub when the alleged incident took place. There may have been a malicious allegation. In other cases, the police may hold information that is relevant to child protection, but which is not reliable. For example, a person may have been seen hanging round school gates. That may be true, but they might have a perfectly good explanation for that—for all we know, they might be dating one of the teachers.

There is a lack of clarity about the nature of the appeals that are possible when such information appears on an enhanced disclosure certificate or, under the bill, a scheme record. I am pleased that the Executive lodged amendments at stage 2 to section 48, which is on the correction of inaccurate scheme records, to deal with some of the issues. Section 48 now provides a clear way in which people can deal with two types of situation. The first is when there are issues of factual accuracy. For example, if a person's scheme record says that they have a conviction for speeding, but they do not have such a conviction, they will be able to request that it be corrected and, if there is a refusal to correct the record, the issue can go to the Scottish information commissioner. The second situation is when an issue arises about whether a conviction is relevant to a person's suitability to work with a protected group. There is now a clear procedure in the bill under which such a matter can be referred back to the chief constable, who will review the relevance of the conviction or piece of information to working with the protected group.

A third situation is the one to which I referred earlier, when the issue is the reliability of the non-conviction or soft vetting information that the police hold. The purpose of amendments 30 and 31 is to establish that that type of information is also subject to review by the chief constable under sections 48(4) and 48(5). The intention is to clarify the situation and to ensure that people who think that the police have inaccurate information about them can challenge that information, have it reviewed by the police and, perhaps for the first time, put their case to the police as to why that information is not valid.

I move amendment 30.