Asking people to declare all past criminal convictions, including offences committed as children, is a breach of human rights, a landmark judgment has ruled.
Three judges in the Court of Appeal have ruled on Tuesday that the 1997 Police Act is incompatible with Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, the right to privacy and a family life.
The Home Office has said that they will appeal the decision.
CRB checks can be a breach of human rights, a court has ruled
The case centered on “T”, a 21-year-old man who received warnings from Manchester Police when he was 11-years-old in connection with two stolen bikes.
But as an adult; when he applied for a part-time job at a local football club at the age of 17 and later when he applied for a University course in sports studies, his criminal cautions were revealed to the university and employer.
Mike Pemberton, the solicitor who represented "T", told Radio 5 Live: "This is a case where human rights equals common sense. You can't argue that something you did when you were 11-years-old will blight you for the rest of your life."
Mr Pemberton added that the Government had "sat on the fence and moaned" for the last month about the possible impact the ruling could have on the criminal records system.
A Home Office spokesman said: “The protection of children and vulnerable groups must not be compromised.
"We are disappointed by this judgement and are seeking leave to appeal to the Supreme Court.”
In its judgment the court recognised the value of disclosing convictions if an applicant wanted to work with children or vulnerable adults, but said the current system is "disproportionate to that legitimate aim”.
The automatic checks interfere with a right to privacy because “as a conviction recedes into the past, it becomes part of the individual’s private life” and “the administering of a caution is part of an individual’s private life from the outset”.
It also noted that “the disclosure of historic information about convictions…can lead to a person’s exclusion from employment”.
Corinna Ferguson, legal officer for Liberty, said: “This sensible judgment requires the Government to introduce a more nuanced system for disclosing this type of sensitive personal data to employers.
"For too long irrelevant and unreliable information provided under the blanket CRB system has blighted people’s lives.
"We hope that long overdue reforms – properly balancing the aim of public protection with privacy rights – will now be forthcoming.”
Orwell Prize-nominated blogger Adam Wagner, a human rights barrister at One Crown Office Row, told HuffPost UK that the court was not disputing that child protection was important and that employers needed information about prospective employees' histories.
"However, there sometimes comes a point at which certain policies, no matter how laudable the aim, can have a disproportionate effect on individuals who fall under them. That is what happened here," he said.
"The court did not say that any requirement to disclose spent convictions was unlawful. Rather, it ruled that more must be done to distinguish between the relevant and irrelevant criminal history of someone applying for a job."
John Wadham, Chief Legal Officer at the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), which also intervened in the case, said: "Many of us have been in minor trouble with the law as children, which we regret at the time but we would not expect that to affect our ability to get a job later in life.
"However, if the police and other bodies can pass on this information without our knowledge it will have serious implications for our lives and careers."
Nick Pickles, director of privacy and civil liberties campaign group Big Brother Watch, said: "As the Magistrates Association has warned, the use of cautions is spiralling out of control, denying victims punishment where it is warranted and ruining the careers of people who have committed trivial indiscretions.
"The system of cautions and the system of criminal record checks need fundamental reform, starting with a legal right for minor offences to be wiped from police records after a reasonable period of time."
The Home Office has said it intends to appeal the judgment
CRB checks in the current system have long come under fire from human rights groups, who argue they prevent those who committed minor offences as youngsters from finding meaningful employment or study later in life, and prevent rehabilitation.
The Government’s recent Criminal Records Review recommended the introduction of a “filter” to remove old and minor conviction information criminal record checks, but the government has not announced any intention to introduce such a system.
Master of the Rolls Lord Dyson said they considered it appropriate to make a declaration, because they could not be confident that Parliament would move swiftly to find a solution to the issue.
He refused the Government permission to appeal but said the declaration should not take effect pending determination of a renewed application directly to the Supreme Court.
The judgment had been delayed since mid-December because of concerns by the government about the legal implications on the CRB checking system.