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IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Children Outside the United Kingdom Phase 2 Investigation Report

D.3: The regime in practice

DBS and ICPC checks include no or limited information about overseas offending

18. Information about overseas offending comes from other countries to ACRO under EU law and international protocols. ACRO will then update the PNC. Once an individual comes to the attention of the police, a foreign conviction can also be added to the PNC if it is for an offence on the Home Office’s Serious Offence List. This process relies on the willingness and ability of other countries to comply with information-sharing protocols, as well as on there being the resources needed to update the PNC.

19. Depending on the criminal records infrastructure of the country in question, the PNC may contain detailed information. However, it appears that this happens in only a “small” number of cases. The DBS has no other means of accessing information about criminal convictions or investigations abroad. The implications of the withdrawal of the UK from the EU for the sharing of criminal records information between the UK and EU member states remain unclear.[1]

20. It therefore remains the case that a DBS check “may not provide a complete picture of an individual’s criminal record if the individual has a criminal record outside the UK”.[2] This inevitably raises doubt about the comprehensiveness of the scheme.

21. Some witnesses considered that this issue renders the DBS scheme inadequate. Father Shay Cullen, founder of the People’s Recovery, Empowerment and Development Assistance (PREDA) Foundation based in the Philippines, described the DBS’s inability to search overseas convictions as a “glaringly obvious shortfall”, as those convictions could be “significant and pertain directly to the dangerousness of [the individual] working with children”.[3] Mike Cooper of the Ministry of Defence Schools agreed that this limits the effectiveness of the DBS scheme.[4] Robert Price of ACRO considered that the disclosure and barring regime is, overall, “ineffective” when dealing with foreign nationals (and by extension UK nationals convicted abroad), due to the inability to access foreign police information.[5]

22. The inability of DBS checks to include overseas offending consistently is a significant concern which poses clear risks to the safety of children in the UK and abroad. For example, a person with previous convictions involving children abroad obtained an enhanced DBS certificate and worked in England as a driver for school children, in which capacity he sexually abused a 10-year-old boy with special needs.[6] Although this example relates to a child within the UK and not one overseas, it illustrates how the current system could place children in the UK and abroad at risk.

23. The Council of International Schools told us that the information about overseas convictions provided on an ICPC is “limited”, so employers will generally still need to conduct criminal checks in the country in question.[7] It therefore appears that the ICPC may suffer from the same defect as the DBS system as far as overseas offending is concerned.

DBS checks cannot be obtained by employers based overseas

24. Applications for DBS certificates cannot be made where the prospective employer is based abroad and no employment decision is being made in England and Wales.[8]

25. This means that an organisation overseas cannot conduct the checks that would be expected as standard in England and Wales, even if the person involved is a British national or resident. They must use the ICPC scheme or conduct other country-specific checks. In practice, this may facilitate those barred from working with children in England and Wales to seek employment overseas, which creates a risk for children abroad. Child Redress International regards this as a key reason why the disclosure and barring regime is not adequate and robust enough.[9]

26. In the summer of 2018, the Home Office indicated that the Council of British International Schools (COBIS) would no longer be able to access standard or enhanced DBS checks, unless the recruitment decision was being made in either England or Wales. This was a controversial decision. The Home Office’s position is that, correctly applying the legislative framework, COBIS was not entitled to conduct the checks as the overseas schools were ultimately making the suitability decision themselves.[10] COBIS had conducted thousands of these checks on behalf of member and non-member schools in the international sector over 15 years. COBIS expressed their severe disappointment at this decision, given their staunch advocacy of safer recruitment practices, safeguarding and child protection. They were supported in this position by their member schools, international schools and the International Task Force on Child Protection. COBIS lobbied unsuccessfully for the decision to be reconsidered. As a result, COBIS now only signposts members and non-members to the ICPC and country-specific background checks.[11] Although recognising the Home Office’s position that COBIS should not have been able to make these checks under the current legislation, the effect of this change does appear to be a step backwards, making it harder for overseas organisations to carry out robust checks intended to protect children from the risk of sexual abuse or exploitation.

The ICPC is optional and there has been limited uptake of it in some countries

27. Use of the ICPC is not mandatory, even for British nationals and residents working in regulated activities overseas.[12] Although the ICPC has been extensively marketed, in some countries ‘take up’ has been low. APLE has welcomed the ICPC as a step in the right direction, but it is understood that only one ICPC has been applied for from Cambodia, where APLE is based.[13] Glen Hulley of Project Karma, which is active throughout Southeast Asia, had not come across it.[14]

28. The cost of applying for an ICPC (currently £75) appears to act as a disincentive to individuals and smaller organisations overseas.[15]

Differences between the DBS and ICPC schemes

29. An ICPC will not necessarily reveal if someone has been barred from working with children by the DBS (which an enhanced DBS check will do).[16] This appears to be a further key gap.

30. Prior to January 2018, “soft” information (for example, concerns that fall below the criminal standard, or that meet the criminal threshold but for other reasons did not lead to arrest) were included on an enhanced DBS check but not on an ICPC. NCA-CEOP now includes this information on an ICPC where it is deemed necessary to protect children.[17] Disclosure processes under the ICPC are in accordance with the DBS Quality Assurance Framework, based on the Statutory Disclosure Guidance issued by the Home Office.

31. There are different filtering or ‘step down’ rules for an enhanced DBS check and an ICPC check. It is therefore not clear whether material would be removed from an ICPC check that would remain on an enhanced DBS check (or indeed vice versa).[18]

32. There are further differences between an enhanced DBS check and an ICPC check, which may cause problems in practice.

32.1. Legislation determines which level of DBS check can be sought but no such provisions apply to the ICPC, which can lead to a lack of clarity for employers.

32.2. Both certificates are issued directly to the applicant, but the security features enabling organisations to identify fraudulent documents are different.

32.3. The DBS offers an update service, which allows employers to check the status of the individual’s DBS directly online, avoiding the individual having to re-apply for a DBS check. This service is not available for the ICPC.[19]

Smaller organisations overseas can lack the resources to carry out full employment vetting

33. Smaller, locally run charities or institutions overseas often lack the resources to do appropriate screening and background-checking.[20]

34. Adrian Greer of the British Council was sympathetic to this. He explained that the Council’s decision to adopt a global pre-appointment screening process had not been easy because of the enormous costs and resources involved. The British Council is a very large organisation, with a £1.2 billion turnover, and this initiative cost £1–1.5 million.[21]

Charity Commission guidance to overseas institutions cannot be enforced

35. The Charity Commission has issued recruitment guidelines for charities working internationally, stating that charities should make eligibility and suitability checks on trustees, volunteers, employees and anyone connected with the charity who might have access to children.[22] It cannot, however, sanction charities based overseas for non-compliance with its guidelines.[23]

Reliance on other countries’ disclosure and barring regimes

36. The countries to which offenders travel may not operate robust vetting systems. Even in such countries where vetting systems are in place, obtaining full disclosure that presents a full picture of previous offences can be problematic.

37. In many countries in Southeast Asia, the vetting of staff, volunteers and visitors at institutions caring for children is poor. For example, in Cambodia, people applying for a job in a non-governmental organisation (NGO) or a school are rarely asked to provide a police clearance certificate, and take up of the ICPC has been low. There is a particular lack of awareness within the private sector of the need to vet staff, and the high demand for British teachers can mean institutions are keen to recruit individuals quickly and do so without conducting proper checks.[24] OU-X1 told us of a similar difficulty with unregistered orphanages in the Philippines, where staff and volunteers are not vetted.[25] In Southeast Asia, there are extremely limited systems for registration, licensing and supervision, and audits of these institutions are often non-existent.[26]

38. When institutions do try to conduct background checks, they can face practical problems. Agencies involved in recruiting English teachers in Southeast Asia often find that universities refuse to provide proof of an applicant’s degree or qualifications on privacy grounds, and overseas criminal justice agencies refuse to provide the results of checks of their databases. Recruiters often therefore have to rely on web search engines or other open source information to check an applicant’s background.[27]

39. In some countries, the difficulties are compounded by a lack of official birth certificates or other legal documents, poor public administration governance and infrastructures, as well as high levels of corruption.[28]

References

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