Belfast Telegraph

Criminal records service reviewed

Government management of criminal records is to be reviewed in Northern Ireland.

Those who want to work with young people and the vulnerable have to obtain a certificate about their background from an office called AccessNI. That could include teachers or carers or youth group leaders.

Sunita Mason, the UK Government's adviser on the management of criminal information in England and Wales, has been appointed to carry out an investigation into the system in Northern Ireland and is expected to report back by the end of June.

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."

AccessNI was established in 2008 but was criticised by employers shortly afterwards for the amount of time it took to vet people hoping to work in areas such as social care.

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

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

Mr Ford added: "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."

Ms Mason said Northern Ireland was in some ways ahead of England and Wales in managing information on criminality, adding: "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."

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