The ConDemNation coalition set its sights on returning government to adhering to the rule of law, and Deputy PM Nick Clegg has promised a wholescale rollback of New Labour’s authoritarian project, but of course their record is already patchy – check out prisoners’ voting rights, the DNA database and control orders as just three examples. One unexpected partial step in the right direction involves the Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA):
Home Secretary Theresa May has announced that [ISA] registration, due to begin next month, has been put on hold.
There will be a review of the entire vetting and barring scheme, with a scaling back to “common-sense levels”.
The government says the vetting scheme would have been “disproportionate and overly burdensome”.
Mrs May told the BBC that the measures were “draconian”.
“You were assumed to be guilty until you were proven innocent, and told you were able to work with children,” she said.
“All sorts of groups out there were deeply concerned about this and how it was going to affect them.
“There were schools where they were very concerned that foreign exchanges could be finished as a result of this, parents were worried about looking after other people’s children after school.”
The government is now contacting 66,000 organisations, including charities, voluntary groups and education authorities, to tell them that the planned registration is being cancelled.
Excellent news, really quite an impressive step in the right direction, particularly by a Conservative Party which in the past has been so succeptible to moral panics. In fact it’s highly impressive that May has used the term ‘draconian’ to describe the scheme, but it remains to be seen what this ‘scaling-back’ will involve. The ISA has already caused significant damage to the social fabric, presuming as it does that everyone is a paedophile unless they can prove otherwise. The Vetting and Barring Scheme was one of the most serious blights on the rule of law under New Labour, allowing the ISA to decide on people’s suitability as ‘safe’ to work with ‘vulnerable’ people (which would inevitably widen in its scope and definition over time) based on heresay and personal prejudice, with the most threadbare of rights of appeal.
The ISA, left unchecked, will send the message to younger people that everyone older than them is a potential threat, will make it more difficult for younger people to learn how to risk assess meaningfully for themselves, and will allow government to make decisions which are best suited to local people and local communities. After all the Soham murders, which the ISA was set up in response to, weren’t caused by an absence of child protection at the school which Ian Huntley worked at. And Huntley would never have worked at that school if existing protection provisions had been properly adhered to, and only gained contact with Jessica Chapman and Holly Wells because of their association with his girlfriend. The ISA could never have prevented that, indeed such a bureaucracy will never adequately be able to detect child abuse, which is invariably perpetrated by someone children already know (and who won’t be on a database). Is there a problem with paedophilia and child abuse? Of course, but it’s not best tackled through over-reliance on a database, nor by subverting the rule of law. We can only hope that the coalition really has understood that it can’t prevent risk, can’t protect everyone, and must allow employers and voluntary organisations to exercise their own expertise and discretion.
The only credible solution would be for the ISA to be wound up.
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