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Published, 17 December 2019

MSPs back stronger background checks to protect children

The Scottish Parliament’s Education and Skills Committee has published (17 December 2019) its Stage 1 report on the Disclosure (Scotland) Bill, which seeks to update protections for children and vulnerable people from known offenders. The new legislation being considered by MSPs will require anyone working with children or vulnerable people to have compulsory background checks under the PVG scheme.

Although the stage one report stresses the Committee’s support for the general principles of the Bill, members have expressed concerns over how some of these measures would work in practice. They have highlighted a number of areas within the Bill which will require further clarification and consideration at Stage 2 to ensure that the Bill delivers on it aims in full.  

Issues raised include discrepancies between the proposed Bill and recently passed Acts, including the Age of Criminal Responsibility Act (Scotland), which raises the age of criminal responsibility to 12 years of age, and The Management of Offenders Act 2019, which makes changes to the self-disclosure system for minors.

The report also calls for greater clarity about some decision-making processes, as well as ensuring care-experienced young people are not disadvantaged by regulations relating to the disclosure of childhood offending. Currently it is against the law for an organisation to employ someone to work with children or vulnerable people if they are barred from doing so. If the new Bill is passed into law, it would provide a list of ‘regulated activities’ for which workers or volunteers would need to have mandatory background checks.

Other changes that would be introduced by the Bill include ending lifetime membership of the Protection of Vulnerable Groups (PVG) scheme, with certificates instead being renewed every five years through a new and simpler process.

Under 16s would also no longer be eligible for PVG checks, while disclosure of minor criminal offences would be decided on a case by case basis.

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