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News & Knowledge

‘Working with children’ clearances and your rights

12th August 2016
Patrick McCabe, Johnston Withers

The protection of children from those who might do them harm has rightly become a top priority in our society. In this article, MSI's Adelaide law member Johnston Withers takes a closer look at the rights of those who work with children.

In light of increasing awareness of the horrific reality of physical and sexual child abuse, the protection of children from those who might do them harm has rightly become a top priority in our society. However, in our worthy efforts to ensure this sort of abuse happens no longer, we also must remember the rights of those who work with children.

Social workers, teachers, carers, and others like them, do some of our society’s most important, difficult, but often thankless and undervalued work.

Johnston Withers has recently acted for a number of such people whose rights have unfortunately been trampled in our government’s otherwise-laudable rush to keep children safe from harm.

One example of our work relates to ‘working with children’ clearances (often called ‘child-related employment screening’). These clearances are required for jobs involving contact with children. They exist so people who have abused children never end up in a role where they might have an opportunity to do that again. Of course, one of the main things the government checks when deciding whether to clear someone is their criminal record.

In July 2014, new laws were introduced about clearances. These laws are not clearly drafted, but the government has interpreted them to mean it’s now able to assess not just proven criminal offences, but also unproven criminal charges, including withdrawn charges, or even charges where you were found not guilty.

If that’s right, this would be an unacceptable violation of our right to the presumption of innocence. People could be deprived of a ‘working with children’ clearance merely because they once faced a criminal charge which turned out to be completely baseless. For many, failing a clearance effectively means their career is over, because all jobs in their chosen field require a clearance.

Johnston Withers have successfully assisted people facing this predicament. By making arguments relating to administrative law, and legal principles requiring laws to be interpreted in ways that respect basic human rights like the presumption of innocence, we have convinced the government not to hold historic, withdrawn criminal charges against people.

If you’re having difficulties with clearances, it could be worth getting in touch with us for a free initial appraisal to see if we can assist you too.

About Johnston Withers - Adelaide

Johnston Withers is a mid-sized South Australian law firm with a social conscience. We have been serving our Adelaide and regional SA clients for nearly 70 years.

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