05:16, July 22 124 0 theguardian.com

2017-07-22 05:16:04
public servant: my letter to the public  
 A driving conviction stopped me from becoming a barrister

I thought that I was attending a party for my sister, but my mother and wife had actually planned a surprise party for me in celebration of a long-held dream come true. In a real triumph over adversity, I would be the first in my family to embark on a career in the legal profession as a trainee barrister with the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).

But it all went heartbreakingly wrong for me. I have a driving conviction – and 10 days before I was due to start, the CPS withdrew my dream job offer because of it. I was registered at the Bar as a fit and proper person, and I am a registered child protection officer – but none of that mattered.

I couldn’t bring myself to tell all my friends and family who had made the long trip to my “celebration” party that I was not about to become a barrister after all. It was too painful.

Like all civil service departments, the CPS is signed up to the Ban the Box campaign – which aims to give the 11 million people in the UK with a criminal record, a fair chance to apply for jobs, by taking the tick box out of the application forms and asking about criminal convictions later on in the recruitment process.

In practice, the CPS has no adequate way of dealing with this process. And at the same time, they need more people like me – they have made a public commitment to be a more inclusive employer to attract talent from a diverse talent pool, including applicants from BAME backgrounds. My skills, qualifications and life experience would make a perfect fit – instead, I was written off.

I grew up in north-west England and I come from a deprived background. My mother was a single parent and she fought to raise me in the right way; at times sharing a double mattress on the floor with my sister and me to provide a roof over our heads. As a child, I was exposed to many traumatic events while growing up including the murder of my uncle and having guns pointed in my face.

I was only six when my mother was told that my learning difficulties were so severe my reading capability would not improve. I struggled immensely at school and lots of the people around me were drawn into gangs – many of my friends were either murdered or went to prison.

I made some regretful mistakes as a teenager and ended up with a criminal record for minor offences, but the birth of my son was the huge turning point in my life.

I began working as a volunteer helping gang members and prisoners to change their lives for the better. I returned to education, earning a degree in social work,

becoming a child protection officer. I later completed a graduate diploma in law and after gaining a scholarship – I eventually passed the Bar.

Both my life and work experience gave me a great desire to work in criminal law and make a real positive difference in society. The CPS seemed to be a great place for me to develop my skills.

In terms of disclosing criminal convictions, social justice charity Nacro recommends that employers gather this information when candidates are shortlisted. But the CPS doesn’t ask about criminal convictions until the final job offer stage.

I know I do not have an unblemished past – but I provided a full written disclosure to the CPS at the point in the recruitment process they requested and provided a wealth of supporting information including very positive character references.

I was not subject to any risk assessment; I was not given a chance to discuss any concerns they might have; and I was not even given any opportunity to appeal. Nacro advocated on my behalf, but to no avail.

Needless to say, receiving this news was completely devastating to me and my whole family. I gained weight and became emotionally distressed. I was a shell of the man who had been on top of the world only a few weeks earlier. My wife was equally devastated. She had taken every difficult step with me over the past five years.

Legal traineeships are extremely hard to come by; the role would have paved the way to a permanent post as a Crown Prosecutor. By withdrawing the job offer from me at the very end, I also missed out on seeking other trainee opportunities with other legal firms as the narrow window of time to secure one had elapsed.

There is a shortage of legal professionals and taking away my job offer was a huge waste of public money, and the CPS still has a long way to go to be truly inclusive. I hope my story helps other civil service departments not to write off people in the same way.

This series aims to give a voice to the staff behind the public services that are hit by mounting cuts and rising demand, and so often denigrated by the press, politicians and public. If you would like to write an article for the series, contact kirstie.brewer@theguardian.com

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