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The police and other public authorities have recruitment vetting policies in place that are designed to ensure that staff taken on are people of integrity. However, as one High Court case showed, such policies must be reasonable and take account of job applicants' human right to privacy (R on the Application of 'R' v The National Police Chiefs' Council and Others).
The case concerned a criminology graduate, aged 24, who had been refused a job as a service support officer with a police force. That was on the basis of a reprimand for shoplifting that she had received when she was 13. She had candidly self-disclosed the reprimand – which was the only blemish on her record – in her employment application.
In those circumstances, her lawyers made wide-ranging criticisms of the relevant vetting policy in judicial review proceedings issued against the National Police Chiefs' Council, the Secretary of State for Justice and others. Her principal complaint was that she had been required to disclose the reprimand in the first place. She felt that, in the real world, that requirement would always put her at risk of discriminatory and unlawful treatment.
Ruling on the case, the Court noted that she was, on the face of it, well qualified for the job she had applied for and that her peremptory rejection had plunged her into clinical depression. The shoplifting offence – she and other teenagers had taken a £20 sarong from a high street store – was at the very lowest level of seriousness. There was no basis on which it could be said that employing her would have put the public at risk and her human right to privacy had not been put in the balance.
Her childhood misdemeanour had resulted in her career path and aspirations being blocked, although employing her would not in any way have undermined public confidence in the police. There was, in the circumstances, no sensible or rational basis on which the reprimand could be relevant to her preferred employment.
Expressing wider concerns about the case, the Court noted that evidence showed that the police had delayed substantially in bringing their practice and guidance into line with the law, and that the standard of employment vetting across the UK was frequently inconsistent and sub-optimal. The case illustrated graphically how any assumption that employers would apply human rights criteria in a fair, consistent and effective manner might be seriously misplaced.
The Court observed that, in the light of its ruling, new police recruitment vetting procedures had been approved by the Home Secretary and were due to be laid before Parliament imminently.