We don’t just have the CRB authority in this country to protect vulnerable children anymore. The CRB was formed following Ian Huntley’s child murders in the 2002, whilst employed at the school which Jessica Chapman & Holly Wells attended, but the bureau’s responsibility is merely to provide information on criminal convictions. Whilst it does lead on occasion to undesirable outcomes, its basis is merely to inform people in positions of authority, working with vulnerable young people or children, about what has been proven in law about applicants seeking to work with them. It may be seriously flawed in not detailing where ex-offenders may have since led, but in itself it doesn’t engage in value judgments. Now however we have the Independent Safeguarding Authority, a body designed to make extra-legal decisions about the suitability of people to work with any vulnerable group. Says Mark Johnson of the new authority:
Without the protection of judge or jury, the right to work of an estimated 11.3 million people will be determined by the ISA. But who exactly will make these decisions? What qualifications do staff have to sit in judgment? Just how much time and effort will they put into researching the lives and, yes, achievements of someone who was living on the margins and is now trying to re-enter society as a contributing member?
The ISA staff can take as evidence not just criminal convictions and cautions but also mere allegations – and remember that, in our age of social networking, an allegation can be the touch of a keypad by one dysfunctional kid.
It also places a duty on employers to share their concerns. Even more astonishing, staff will actually listen to gossip in the press. Then they can, through other agencies, gain access to texts, emails and a range of personal data to reach a decision. Been found not guilty by a jury in a court of law? That doesn’t mean that the ISA won’t carry out its own private retrial. You might be innocent “beyond all reasonable doubt”, but the ISA is entitled to satisfy itself, on the “balance of probabilities”, that you really did commit that crime.
This kangaroo court gives you no chance to appear before them. You can make a written representation, which they can overrule, and I can find no evidence of an efficient appeals procedure. If educational difficulties handicap your attempts to articulate your written case, you’ll need to pay a lawyer, but there’s no mention of legal aid.
This. Is. Wrong. It is unfair, it breaches the human rights of numerous people who will be denied their fully lawful right to work, and panders to the lowest form of mob justice. As I’ve said many times before this obsession with finding villains in the woodwork will always mask the really dangerous people in society. To set up an authority to disadvantage people it simply doesn’t like the sound of is monstrous. Philip Pullman’s response at being subjected to its scrutiny:
“It seems to be fuelled by the same combination of prurience, sexual fear and cold political calculation,” the author of the bestselling His Dark Materials trilogy said today. “When you go into a school as an author or an illustrator you talk to a class at a time or else to the whole school. How on earth – how on earth – how in the world is anybody going to rape or assault a child in those circumstances? It’s preposterous.”
Both Pullman and former children’s laureate Anne Fine said the legislation would mean that they would not speak in a school again. “I refuse – having spoken in schools without incident for 32 years, I refuse to undergo such a demeaning process,” said Fine. “It’s all part of a very unhealthy situation that we’ve got ourselves into where all people who are close to children are almost seen as potential paedophiles.”
“If someone says we won’t have you in our school, of course I’m not going to,” agreed Pullman. “It’d be a great shame for me but I’m not going to under these circumstances. I went into a primary school in Oxford earlier this year and thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s a very enjoyable thing I can do occasionally – I don’t have to do it very often because fortunately I can earn enough from my writing. But other authors depend on the income it brings in. For them the crowning insult is to have to pay to clear their name from something they haven’t done.” He believes the legislation will also have a longer-term effect. “It damages in a much deeper way the trust and social cohesion we ought to be able to rely on,” he said. “You ought to be able to trust people, so to say to a child that you’re having someone to talk to you but don’t worry, we’ve checked him out and he’s not a paedophile, implies that everybody who isn’t checked is.”
It’s insane. An organisation such as this (which doesn’t represent anyone) will only end up, as Pullman says, in destroying social cohesion. Not only will it (as the government wishes) teach children that they can only be safe at any age by consulting the government first, that they shouldn’t learn how to value judge or risk assess their own relationships for themselves, but that all people they don’t know cannot be trusted. This is not how community until now has operated, nor should it be under any circumstances. Both sides caught up in the ISA’s remit will be damagingly disadvantaged – everyone loses (other than those who can afford a good lawyer).
In the coming weeks I’m going to start a campaign against the Independent Safeguarding Authority. I don’t believe it has any justification to exist and ask all like-minded people to join me in fighting to get it abolished. Are you with me?