Most of us are aware that a DBS check looks into our criminal record. But there’s more confusion over what exactly will be printed on the DBS certificate. Is it just a list of every brush you’ve ever had with the law? Or just the most recent stuff? And how exactly is a criminal conviction defined anyway? It’s all very complicated, and there aren’t always straightforward answers.
Criminal Convictions and Cautions
The main area of confusion is around what is defined as a criminal conviction and what isn’t. Motoring offences is a great example of this. Being stopped for speeding at 40 miles per hour in a 30 zone, getting three points on your licence and a fine is not a criminal offence. You are not arrested, never appear in court. However, if you’re caught doing 120 on the motorway, that’s too fast to be dealt with by a roadside fine, you’ll be arrested and have to go to court to defend yourself. In those cases, the speeding has crossed the line into the criminal. So, in basic terms, if you have been to court, the offence is criminal.
Cautions are a different matter. A caution is a tool the police have for dealing with minor offences where you have admitted your guilt. Someone being cautioned attends the police station and accepts a formal legal caution from an officer. Although there is no court appearance, cautions still appear on the police computer. Cautions are used to deal with low level, first time offences. Typical offences resulting in a caution could be being drunk and disorderly, graffiti or anti-social behaviour.
What Appears on a DBS certificate?
In order to understand what might appear on your DBS certificate, you have to get your head around the concept of filtering. In the UK, it’s generally accepted that it’s unfair to expect someone to drag a minor conviction or caution around for the rest of their life. So minor offences, or those committed when under the age of 18, are “forgotten” after a certain period of time. This doesn’t apply to the most serious offences, but does to many issues which young people get into trouble over.
For a basic DBS check, only convictions and cautions which are unexpired are shown on the certificate. It’s just a statement of your current criminal record. Employers can’t force you to tell them about other, older convictions and cautions.
More detailed DBS checks have different rules. Enhanced and standard disclosures might contain information about older convictions if the police think they are relevant to the type of work you are applying for. The police have to balance the rights of the applicant to leave their past behind them against the safety of the people they might be working with. The decision will be made on a case by case basis. Having criminal convictions on a DBS record doesn’t mean that you won’t ever be able to get this sort of job. The decision will depend on the circumstances, and what you’ve been doing since the offences were committed.