Keep it legal: Criminal record checks

Earlier this year, an expose by the Daily Mirror revealed that it had registered a children's charity using the name of a convicted paedophile as a trustee (Third Sector, 18 January).

The Charity Commission subsequently issued guidelines advising children's charities and groups working with vulnerable adults on the requirement for trustees to obtain a Criminal Records Bureau check prior to registration.

Trustees had already been facing CRB checks for some time. Checks first became available as a means for vetting potential workers in 2002, when regulations (amended earlier this year) enacted provisions of the Police Act 1997.

What the regulations still do not provide is clear advice about when it is compulsory to carry out checks, on whom and by whom. So trustees must refer to a raft of other legislation, including the Protection of Children Act 1999, the Criminal Justice and Court Services Act 2000 and the Education Act 2002.

Trustees should note that compliance with CRB regulations and the Charity Commission's guidance does not make a charity impenetrable by abusers seeking to gain access to children or vulnerable people. Trustees of all charities should establish clear policies for the protection of children and vulnerable people that are understood and adhered to by trustees, staff and volunteers.

Trustees also need to ascertain whether they are governing a children's charity or a charity working with vulnerable adults. If any individual in the organisation has regular contact with children as part of their normal work, it is likely to be a children's charity and all trustees must be checked by the CRB, even if the trustees themselves do not have regular contact with children.

Identification of charities working with vulnerable adults is less straightforward; all boards should assess the extent to which they come into contact with vulnerable adults and make a judgement as to whether some or all trustees should be checked.

Finally, remember that CRB checks provide only a snapshot of an individual's criminal record at a particular time. Trustees therefore need to consider how often checks should be renewed. The Charity Commission recommends updating them every three years as best practice. If in doubt, err on the side of caution.

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