Innocent until proven guilty?

The Supreme Court has recently ruled that police forces providing information for enhanced criminal record checks are able to reveal whether individuals have previously been acquitted of a criminal offence.

The case has raised questions regarding the balance between protecting an individual's right to privacy and the need to protect the public from harm.

The case was brought to court by a man who had been accused of rape in 2011 and was later acquitted by a jury at the Crown Court.

The man was a qualified teacher but working as a taxi driver at the time of the allegation. Following the acquittal, he applied for a job as a lecturer which required an Enhanced Criminal Record Certificate (ECRC). The ECRC was produced and contained details of the rape acquittal. The man obviously objected to this disclosure as it impacted on his ability to gain employment and did not provide the full detail of the evidence or how the jury decided that he was not guilty.

A standard criminal record certificate is limited to details of cautions and convictions; however the enhanced check allows the inclusion of any other information if the Chief Constable decides that it "ought to be included in the certificate".

The Supreme Court held that Parliament had obviously intended for the inclusion of "soft" information on an enhanced check, including disputed allegations, and therefore there was no logical reason to exclude information about serious allegations merely because a prosecution had failed. They rejected the man's appeal and ruled that disclosure of the acquittal was proportionate in the context of his job application.

Technically, when a person is acquitted in a criminal court it does not mean that they are innocent; it just means that the offence could not be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. This leaves open the possibility that the allegation was true and it is felt that the public should be protected in this scenario.

The effect of this ruling is that an individual who has been found innocent of any crime can still lose their job or have all future employment prospects ruined. It seriously questions the presumption of innocence that the UK is meant to uphold.

Despite dismissing the appeal, the Supreme Court did make a point of saying that the case raised general concerns about the procedure and addressed the fact that there was a lack of information and guidance about how employers should treat criminal record checks.

It is possible that the man in question will appeal this matter to the European Court of Human Rights.

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