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Ford announces review of criminal records regime

Justice Minister David Ford has today announced a review of how criminal records are managed to ensure the protection of vulnerable people in Northern Ireland.
Thursday, 10 March 2011

Minister of Justice, David Ford MLA

The review, which starts today, will look at AccessNI’s procedures for issuing criminal record disclosures and consider whether this process can be more efficient and easier, while at the same time maintaining the rigorous checking process.

Justice Minister David Ford said: “The protection of young people and the most vulnerable in our society is at the heart of the work of AccessNI. That will continue but it is important, particularly after the recent review by the Home Office, that we also look at the service we provide in Northern Ireland.

The review will look at how criminal records are centrally kept, used and managed in Northern Ireland.  It will also consider if the processes in Northern Ireland are consistent with the recently published findings of the Vetting and Barring Scheme by the Home Office.

The Minister has appointed Sunita Mason, the UK Government’s Independent Advisor on the Management of Criminality Information for England and Wales, to take forward the review and she is expected to report by the end of June 2011.

The Minister said: “This is too important an issue to be complacent and that is why I have invited Sunita Mason to review our processes to make sure we have the best systems in place so that the most vulnerable in our society are properly protected.

“Sunita’s expertise in criminal record management and her work on a similar review in England and Wales make her uniquely qualified to undertake this review.  

“While I have no doubt she will draw on her experiences in England and Wales, she will focus on how we work in Northern Ireland and her recommendations will be tailored to our specific circumstances.”

Sunita Mason said she was looking forward to the challenge ahead.  She said: “I believe that Northern Ireland is in some respects ahead of England and Wales in the management of criminality information.  But I wish to make sure those systems work for the benefit of everyone.  I will not however, make any recommendations that would compromise the safeguarding of vulnerable groups.”

Mrs Mason will be consulting widely about the review.  As part of this consultation, she has established an on-linesurvey that any individual, group or organisation with a view on this subject can complete.  This can be found at http://hrsurveys.nisra.gov.uk/doj/crreview.htm

Thesurvey period ends on 13 May 2011. Mrs Mason will continueto take further written comments up until 31 May 2011. Sunita Mason will also be holding meetings with those with a particular interest.

Notes for editors

  1. The Terms of Reference for the Northern Ireland review can be found at www.dojni.gov.uk
  2. In addition to the online survey, written comments can be submitted as follows:-
    E-mail: accessni@ani.x.gsi.gov.uk
    In writing:
    Sunita Mason
    C/o AccessNI
    PO Box 1085
    Belfast
    BT5 9BD
  3. Sunita Mason is the UK Government’s Independent Adviser for Criminality Information Management for England and Wales. Mrs Mason advises ministers on how public protection agencies and services can improve the way criminality information is handled and shared to protect the vulnerable and reduce risk to the public.

    A leading family law solicitor, Mrs Mason was formerly director of legal services for the National Youth Advocacy Service. She is a member of the Law Society's children panel and is currently chair of its family law committee. She is also a deputy district judge on the north-eastern circuit and vice-chair of Hill Holt Wood, a charity working with disadvantaged young people.
  4. The Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety, on behalf of the Northern Ireland Executive, leads on the implementation of new Vetting and Barring Scheme in Northern Ireland, which is being put in place under the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups (NI) Order 2007. Under existing vetting and barring arrangements individuals wishing to work with children or vulnerable adults undergo a criminal record check before they can take up a post.  In Northern Ireland criminal record checks and disclosures are managed by AccessNI – a branch within the Department of Justice.
  5. Sunita Mason is available for interview and can be arranged through the Department of Justice Press Office.  All media enquiries should be directed to the Department of Justice Press Office 028 90526444.  Out of office hours please contact the duty press officer via pager number 07699 715440 and your call will be returned.
  6. Any media queries regarding the Home Office review of the Vetting and Barring Scheme should be directed to the DHSSPS Press Office on 028 90522841.