Child sex offender disclosure scheme – ‘Sarahs Law’

Introduction

The ‘Child Sex Offender Disclosure Scheme’ is designed for members of the public to ask for disclosure (for a record of child sex offences) on an individual they are concerned about who has contact with children. It has been described in some sections of the media as ‘Sarah’s Law’ but is actually different from the wider public disclosure of information on those with convictions for sexual offences campaigned for by Sara Payne and the News of The World.

The scheme is designed to allow anyone to make an application about a person who has some form of contact with a child or children. Under the Child Sex Offender (CSO) Disclosure Scheme, the disclosure will only be made to a parent, carer or guardian, but outside of the process, disclosure may be made to others. In any event, disclosure may not always be to the original applicant as this person may be estranged from the family and not in a position to protect the child or children and therefore the disclosure may be made to the other parent, carer or guardian who is in a position to protect the child. The presumption to disclose will only exist in cases where the person has convictions for child sexual offences.

The CSO Disclosure Scheme will include routes for managed access to information regarding individuals who are not convicted for child sexual offences but who pose a risk of harm to children. This may include the following:

  • Persons who are convicted of other offences e.g. serious domestic violence
  • Persons who are un-convicted but whom police or any other agency holds intelligence on indicating that they pose a risk of harm to children.

There would not be a presumption to disclose such information. The disclosure of information about previous convictions for offences which are not child sex offences is able to continue as it is not the intention of the CSO Disclosure Scheme to make access to information concerning safeguarding children more restricted.

What is new?

  • The CSO Disclosure Scheme introduced a principle of ‘2-way’ disclosure in that it invites people to ask about the history of a person who has some form of contact or connection to a child or children.
  • It enhances the previous arrangements whereby disclosure occurred largely in a reactive way when agencies came into contact with information about an individual having contact with a child.
  • Individual members of the public can now proactively seek information, with an expectation that the agencies will check to see whether relevant information does exist and if it does, that consideration will be given to its disclosure where necessary to protect the child/children.
  • There does not need to be any form of concern or suspicion to request information.

This scheme does not replace existing arrangements for CRB checks, Subject Access or Freedom of Information and the Vetting and Barring Scheme (managed by the Independent Safeguarding Authority).

Stages to be followed regarding disclosure

Stage 1 – Initial contact with Police/register an interest

This may take the form of:

  • Individual attending a police station
  • Street encounter with a police officer/member of police staff
  • Contact as part of a call to an incident
  • Telephone call
  • Online reporting

At this stage the applicant will be advised that:

  • Disclosure, if appropriate, will only be made to the person who is in the best position to safeguard that particular child or children from harm
  • Checks will be completed to ascertain that there is no immediate or imminent risk or harm to that particular child or children as soon as possible but in any case will be within 24 hours.
  • The applicant will be required to undertake a face-to-face meeting within the nect 10 days. They will be required to provide proof of identity, ideally with photographic ID. If they are the parent, carer or guardian then they will also be required to provide proof of their relationship to that particular child or children.
  • The police will aim to complete the enquiry with 45 days but there may be extenuating circumstances that increase this timescale.
  • The applicant will be asked if they consider themselves to be at risk of harm from the individual.

Stage 2 – Face-to-face application

  • The applicant must now be seen in a face-to-face meeting. This is to ensure that the request is genuine and not malicious in any way.
  • The applicant will be warned that if they wilfully or maliciously provide false information to the police in order to get a disclosure they are not entitled to, that they may risk prosecution.

Stage 3 – Empowerment/education

After the face-to-face meeting, the applicant will be given an information pack on the CSO Disclosure Scheme. This will include what they can do in the interim to better safeguard their children’s welfare.

Stage 4 – Full risk assessment

  • Staff conducting the full risk assessment will have a list of questions for consideration to help them to make an assessment of the risk and will be trained to have an understanding of child abuse and offending behaviour.
  • Research and checks on the Police National Computer (PNC), VISOR, force local intelligence systems and Impact Nominal Index should aim to fill any gaps in information, along with information from Probation Service, children’s social care (if applicable) and any other agency than can provide information to inform the risk assessment.

This stage of the process should be reached within 10 days from the initial enquiry.

Stage 5 – Decision route

As a result of the risk assessment and decision making form it will be possible to categorise the application as either ‘concern’ or ‘no concerns’

The criteria for ‘concerns’ are when the individual:

  • Has convictions for child sexual offences
  • Have other convictions relevant to the safeguarding children e.g. adult sexual offences, violence, drug or domestic abuse.
  • Concerning behaviour relevant to safeguarding children which is now being displayed by the subject/child that has been disclosed as part of the disclosure application e.g. grooming/unusual behaviour that indicates sexual harm to children might be likely.

The application will be one raising ‘no concerns’ where the individual has no convictions which raise child safeguarding concerns and there is no other intelligence held by the police indicating the same. Also, where the application has not revealed any concerning behaviour relevant to the safeguarding children.

The maximum timescale for completion of a decision route taken at this stage will be no more than 35 days. This is to allow for a MAPPA meeting to take place which could take up to 28 days. The 35 days then allows a further 7 days for disclosure to be completed and closure to take place. This will result in a maximum time scale of 45 days from start to finish for the entire Disclosure Scheme.

Stage 6 – Disclosure and non-disclosure

Non-Disclosure – ‘no concerns’

When the decision route has been taken that there are no concerns in relation to the information provided in the disclosure request then a letter will be forwarded to the applicant/carer if it is deemed appropriate, otherwise the applicant/carer will be visited in person.

The applicant/carer will be told that there is no information to disclose given the information/details provided by the applicant and the result of checks made on these details.

They will also be advised that just because there is no information this does not mean that there is no risk of harm to the child or children and that they should continue to take steps to safeguard them. They will also be given advice on what to do in the event of future disclosures and provide general safeguarding children advice.

Disclosure – ‘concerns’

If there are ‘concerns’ in relation to the information provided in the disclosure request then a record of what the applicant/carer is told is kept on record by the police. The decision then whether to make the disclosure is a multi-agency decision. For those individuals who meet the MAPPA criteria, then this would be discussed at a MAPPA meeting. For those who do not meet the MAPPA criteria, this would be via safeguarding children procedures at a strategy meeting.

MAPPA or another multi-agency body making the decision as to whether to disclose or not may decide that it is appropriate to disclose convictions for other types of offending or intelligence that is held by the police. For instance, where an individual is known for other matters that raise safeguarding children issues. They must ensure that the 3-stage test is satisfied before making a decision to disclose any information.

At this meeting, before disclosure is made either about the individual’s convictions or other offending behaviour or intelligence then consideration should also be given whether it is necessary to inform the individual of the disclosure, and if this is the case, then this must be in person accompanied by information about the scheme and the implications for him/her.

On occasions it may be decided that it would be appropriate to involve the individual in ‘self-disclosure’. This may be by the individual making the disclosure to the applicant/carer in the presence of the police officer/police member of staff. Alternatively it may involve the individual making the disclosure to the applicant/carer themselves and the police officer/police member of staff then confirming the relevant facts have been disclosed with the applicant/carer.

It is thought that by involving the individual in the disclosure that it may facilitate their understanding of the risk they pose in causing harm to a child and allow the individual to be part of their own offender management as well as enabling the individual to object and provide reasons why the information should not be disclosed.

However, there will be cases where informing the individual that disclosure is taking place could increase the potential risk to other e.g. the applicant/carer and in those cases the individual may not always be informed. This issue will have to be considered on a case-by-case basis.

The 3 stage test for disclosure

The police will only be disclosing convictions or indeed intelligence lawfully under the CSO Disclosure Scheme if:

  1. They have the power to disclose the information. They must be able to show that it is reasonable to conclude that such disclosure to the applicant/carer is necessary to protect a child or children from being the victim of crime (most probably, sexual abuse committed by the individual of the request)
  2. There is a pressing need for such disclosure.
  3. Interfering with the rights of the offender (under Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights) to have information about his/her previous convictions kept confidential, is necessary and proportionate for the prevention of crime (or in the interests of public safety or for the protection of morals or the rights and freedom of others). This involves considering the consequences for the offender if his/her details are disclosed against the nature and extent of the risks that offender poses to the child or children.

How disclosure is made

If it has been decided that disclosure is to be made then a decision has to be made as to whom it is necessary to disclose the information to. The disclosure must only be made to persons who have a need to know the information to be able to safeguard a child or children from harm. However, MAPPA guidance and supporting legislation under section 327A of Criminal Justice Act 2003 is wider than this and does cater for disclosure to third parties who are not the parent, guardians or carers where necessary to protect a child from risk of serious harm.

The disclosure must be delivered in person with a member of children’s services present, as this helps to provide the applicant/carer with the confidence and relevant contact with other agencies for ongoing support, with the following warning:

  • The information must only be used for the purpose for which is has been shared i.e. in order to safeguard the child or children.
  • The person to whom the disclosure has been made will be asked to sign an undertaking that they agree that the information is confidential and that they will not disclose this information further.
  • That legal proceedings could result if this confidentiality is breached.

Written correspondence with relation to the disclosure of information will never be mailed or left with the applicant/carer.

How a record of the disclosure is maintained

At the closure of every enquiry, whatever the outcome and at any stage in the process, a final intelligence report must then be submitted onto the police intelligence system to record the request, outcomes and details of all parties involved. This will allow any patterns where an individual has many disclosure requests against them to be identified to help safeguard children, and any relevant information coming to light as part of this process is to be shared as appropriate with all relevant agencies.

For more information

More information about the Child Sex Offender Disclosure Scheme can be found on the GOV.UK website.

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