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Lib Dem’s to introduce the much awaited Freedom Bill

Criminal checks on people working with children to be eased

Protection of freedoms bill scales back Labour‘s ‘over-intrusive’ vetting system which affected about 9m people

Nick Clegg

Deputy prime minister Nick Clegg first proposed a ‘freedom bill‘ four years ago when Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Photograph: Dominic Lipinski/PA

More than half of the 9 million people who have needed criminal record checks to work with children and vulnerable adults are to be freed from the burden under new legislation.

The move – part of the coalition government’s plans to scale backLabour‘s “over-intrusive” vetting and barring scheme to “commonsense levels” – is included in the protection of freedoms bill, which is being launched by the deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg. It is designed to roll back “unwarranted state intrusion in private lives” through the use of CCTV, local authority surveillance powers and the police DNA database.

The decision to “very significantly curtail” the vetting and barring scheme will mean that only those in sensitive posts or who have intensive contact with children or vulnerable adults will need to be cleared and undergo criminal record checks.

It is thought this will affect about half the 9 million people currently required to register so they can be continuously monitored while working with other people’s children or vulnerable adults .

The changes are expected to be introduced in about 18 months if, as expected, the bill reaches the statute book early next year.

The vetting and barring system was introduced in the wake of the inquiry into the murders of Soham schoolgirls Jessica Chapman and Holly Wells in 2002.

The home secretary, Theresa May, suspended the need for new job applicants to register with the Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA) last June pending a review of the scheme.

The new legislation makes several changes to the scheme as a result of the overhaul of the checking regime:

• The Criminal Records Bureau and the ISA are to be merged to form a streamlined body to provide a “proportionate” barring and criminal records checking service.

• The number of positions requiring checks will be restricted to those working most closely and regularly with children and vulnerable adults.

• Criminal records checks will be transferred between jobs to cut down on needless bureaucracy.

• An end to the need for those working with vulnerable groups to register with the vetting and barring scheme and be continuously monitored by the ISA.

• Penalties for those who knowingly request unlawful criminal record checks.

Ministers say they will continue to maintain a list of all those barred from working with children and vulnerable adults, but they want to ensure the new framework underpinning barring decisions is robust and fully supports the protection of vulnerable people.

Clegg said: “We inherited a messy criminal records regime that developed piecemeal for years and defied common sense. Our reviews concluded that the systems were not proportionate and needed to be less bureaucratic. They will now be scaled back to sensible levels while at the same time protecting vulnerable people.”

The deputy prime minster said the Labour government had engaged in a 13-year long assault on hard-won British freedoms: “The coalition government is determined to hand them back to the people.”

The plans for a “freedom bill” were first proposed by Clegg four years ago when he was the Liberal Democrats’ home affairs spokesman.

Other key elements include:

• Regulation of CCTV cameras and the police’s automatic number plate recognition scheme for the first time.

• Scaling back the police DNA database so it no longer holds the profiles of those who have not been convicted of any offence.

• Local authority surveillance powers will be restricted to the investigation of serious crime and exclude the enforcement of school catchment areas or checks on rubbish bins.

• The removal of convictions for consensual gay sex from police databases.

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