In England and Wales, information about whether an individual has been convicted of child abuse is covered by the Child Sex Offender Disclosure Scheme (“the Scheme”). It is also known as “Sarah’s Law” — named for Sarah Payne, who was abducted and murdered by a convicted child abuser in 2000. The scheme was enacted following her death and a national campaign by her parents and the newspaper News of the World.
In Scotland, there is an equivalent scheme called Keeping Children Safe. There is currently no specific scheme in Northern Ireland.
There are 43 police forces in England and Wales, all of which can provide information under the Scheme. You should therefore initially contact your local police force in relation to your request for information. You can find your local police force by searching for them online, attending your local police station in person, or by calling 101 from any phone.
Under the Scheme, you can formally apply to the police for information about whether someone with access to a child (whether your own, or someone else’s child) has a criminal record for child sexual offences. If the police think that it is necessary to protect a child, then they will confidentially release information to the person most able to protect the child in question — this will usually be the child’s parents or legal guardians. If you contact the police in relation to someone else’s child, the information may therefore be released to the child’s parents rather than to you.
The person you apply for information about may be told about the enquiry if information is disclosed to you (or to the child’s parent/guardian). If no information is disclosed, they will not be told about the enquiry.
If you are provided with information about an individual under the Scheme, you must keep the information confidential. You may only use the information to keep the child or children in question safe. You will be required by the police to sign a document confirming that you will keep the information provided to you confidential. If you refuse to sign this, they may decide not to disclose the information to you. If you pass the information provided to you on to other people, then legal action may be taken against you for breach of confidentiality. The police may give you permission to pass on the information, in which case you may do so, but only if you have their express permission.
If you misuse the information provided to you — for instance by engaging in vigilantism or harassment of the individual in question — then you can face prosecution for any offences committed.