Liberty AGM

Guest on panel of speakers at Liberty’s Annual General Meeting. Walking in slightly early I catch the tail end of motions being put. And extremely heated and controversial they were. The first I caught was on whether teachers who had had allegations made against them of child abuse issues – false allegations mind you – should be able to get them removed from the record. Currently the Criminal Record Bureau searches result in these allegations being recorded and remaining part of the record. Not surprisingly (and quite outside the current news about the CRB making mistakes on their checks) this has meant that perfectly innocent teachers have found that because of this they have been unable to continue in their profession. Very emotive – and so emotive in fact – that it got sent back (remitted) for further work I guess. But the interesting thing about this moral dilemma is that it follows a current trend where we are seeing the authoritarian view voiced saying that the tarnishing of innocent people is a price we have to pay for the protection of our children. I don’t think that is right. I think we are sophisticated enough to get it far more right than we are getting – and it is not good enough to presume guilt ‘in case’. Protection for children must be rigorous and paramount – but where it is found to be wrong (the allegations were found to be false), there can be no reason for leaving erroneous records in place to hound those falsely accused in perpetuity. You cannot argue that simply because an allegation – possibly malicious – has been made then there is no smoke without a fire. That is the danger of police records and the holding of innocent DNA and so on. These mistakes are perpetuated once systemised in the cyberworld and the potential extension across other databases means that errors or wrongs will be exacerbated and perpetuated.

The second of the motions I caught was whether a member of the BNP should be allowed to be employed in the public services – like the prison service. The argument raged – and it is a difficult one. Do you take the purist view and say regardless of politics or religion everyone should be employed on an equal basis until such time as they act or do something wrong. Or do you avoid the problem by not employing and thus excluding the possibility? These are the questions of moral dilemma for a free society – and seemingly even Liberty has difficulties finding the answers.