New Zealand Law Society - Vetting of Police vetting shows areas for improvement

Vetting of Police vetting shows areas for improvement

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A review of the Police Vetting Service has identified a number of ways in which the Service can improve privacy safeguards for individuals and protect the public.

The review was carried out by the Office of the Privacy Commissioner and the Independent Police Conduct Authority, at the request of New Zealand Police.

A "Police vet" is a review of all information held by the Police relating to an applicant. The main purpose of Police vetting is to provide information to help agencies make informed decisions about potential employees, current employees or volunteers who work directly with vulnerable groups of people, including children, older people and people with special needs.

In a foreword, the two agencies say the vast majority of vetting applications proceed smoothly: "Either Police have no information to indicate a concern about a candidate, or there is clear information to call into question the suitability of a candidate for working with vulnerable people."

"However, the Police will sometimes have information that does not relate to criminal offending, or that has not been tested by a court or otherwise independently verified," they state.

"Reliance on this material can be very prejudicial to the individual concerned, and leave them with very little ability to counter the prejudicial effect of a negative vet. In other cases, Police may have information about the person as a victim, witness, or in some other capacity, such as when Police attend suicide attempts or provide assistance to clinicians acting under the Mental Health Act."  

The report says assessing the relevance of such information calls for a "more nuanced, non-binary approach".

"It may call for further independent investigation or the exclusion of some categories of personal information from consideration. It should be noted that a Police vet does not absolve a prospective employer from undertaking due diligence such as reference checking, and requiring medical clearances in appropriate circumstances."

Noting that Police have already taken steps to address a number of the issues identified, the report makes a number of recommendations addressing how Police should treat "intelligence" that may not be able to be verified, information that may be subject to suppression orders, that has been received in confidence, or that relates solely to matters of physical or mental health.

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