Editorial: Are criminal checks on trustees needed?

Stephen Cook, editor

When an organisation that deals with children or vulnerable adults seeks charitable status, its application to the Charity Commission includes a declaration that it has complied with legal requirements to check with the Criminal Records Bureau that trustees, staff and employees do not have a history that makes them unsuitable.

Last week it emerged that the Daily Mirror managed to register a children's charity that included a trustee with the name and details of a paedophile who had recently come out of prison, thus demonstrating that the commission relies on the declaration alone and does not verify that the CRB checks have been carried out.

A clever tabloid stunt or a service to society? Either way, the commission has taken the matter seriously and is considering how it should change its procedures. A requirement that all charity trustees should be checked by the CRB, and the commission should enforce it, is unnecessary and impractical - there are more than a million trustees in 190,000 charities, a high proportion of which deal with badgers or medical research rather than children or vulnerable people.

One of the possibilities being considered is that applicants for relevant types of charity should be told the declaration about CRB compliance will be checked in some cases - either randomly, or because there is something to suggest it would be a good idea - and that those checks will actually be carried out. This is not comprehensive, but how many paedophiles are really out there plotting to set up children's charities and make false declarations? Even if they were queueing up, such enterprises would usually come to the knowledge of enough people for at least one of them to become suspicious and report them. That's one of the usual mechanisms the commission relies on in relation to wrongdoing, and it's a good one. Let's have a solution that keeps the matter in proportion and doesn't involve the creation of a whole new layer of costly bureaucracy.

Parliament should pay costs of all-party groups

Charities as well as business interests are paying for the administration and research needs of many of the all-party parliamentary groups that seek to advance important causes, from homelessness to beer. It's the business links we should worry about most, but surely everyone would feel more comfortable about all this if Parliament paid the relatively small costs of all parliamentary groups?

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