On many job application forms you’re likely to see some reference to the ‘Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974′ alongside a couple of boxes marked ‘yes’ and ‘no’.
It’s usually only a small section of the form but when it comes to your chances of getting a job, it’s one of the most important questions you’ll be asked.
This is the part of the employment process in which you’re being asked if there is anything you’re obliged to tell the prospective employer about any previous convictions you may have that are not yet considered ‘spent’ according to the Act.
Criminal records are not as uncommon as some may think – just over nine million of the UK population have one – and so it’s important to understand how criminal records are dealt with and what the repercussions can be of being issued one.
As someone who looks at criminal records on a daily basis, I often find that they fall into two categories.
The first shows one or two offences suggesting the owner slipped up and probably regrets whatever led them to the entries on their record.
The second almost come across as the criminal equivalent of a CV – they are an odd representation of someone’s life starting with petty offences and borstal before graduating on to more serious crimes and spells spent in prison as the person grows older.
Recently amended by the memorably named ‘Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012‘, the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act sets out how long it is before offences are considered ‘spent’ and no longer have to be mentioned when employers supply you with those tick boxes.*
For prison sentences, the Act gives time frames during which an offence has to be disclosed, so for an adult an offence for which they were sentenced to up to four years in prison will not be ‘spent’ until seven years after the date on which the sentence was due to be completed. A sentence of over four years will never become spent.
These periods step down according the length of a sentence with a six month sentence becoming spent after two years and are shorter for offenders who were under eighteen at the time of their conviction.
Not wanting to unnecessarily boggle anybody so I’ll not expand here, the Act explains what happens when things get complicated with multiple offences and also sets out how non-custodial disposals – fines, discharges etc – are dealt with.
Adult cautions, juvenile reprimands and final warnings don’t count as criminal convictions and so need not be disclosed, although if specifically asked they should be mentioned and will show up on an enhanced criminal records bureau check.
When it comes to motoring offences, a driving ban doesn’t become spent until the date on which the ban ends and under the new amendment to the Act, fines are relevant for twelve months as opposed to five years under the old wording.
What will show up in a criminal record check and what won’t often depends on the level of check that’s being performed.
If you’re applying to work as a scientist in one of the government’s secret UFO labs that don’t officially exist, expect to undergo an enhanced CRB check which which give a more in depth view of a criminal background than is normally the case.
Members of the public are entitled to view the content of their own criminal record should they have one and can usually apply to their local police force for a disclosure.
Information on how to do this in the West Midlands is available here.
In addition under ‘Sarah’s Law‘, someone concerned about the offending history of someone with access to a child can apply for disclosure of their relevant offending history – see here for more information.
Carrying a criminal record can cause issues when it comes to applying for jobs, courses and travelling as this article from the BBC highlights.
These consequences often aren’t considered at the time but with hindsight, many people wish they had been when they are refused travel visas due to previous offences.
As for how long convictions stay on a record, police forces used to ‘step down’ offences after a period so that they no longer appeared on a record, however this practice was stopped after a judgement by the Court of Appeal in 2009.
Recently highlighted by some PCC candidates being forced to stand down as a result of minor offences thirty or forty years ago, there have been calls for similar historic offences to be struck off criminal records and to this end a review has recently been published in which such a recommendation was made.
I’d say the above represents only a starting point on a subject that isn’t too easy to understand and controversial also, especially when it comes to the retention and disclosure of private information.
It’s should be remembered that offences have to be looked at in context, that an offending history represents only the offences that have come to the attention of the police and that at the same time, they don’t represent the efforts someone has made to rehabilitate and amend for past mistakes.
As it is often down to the employer how to view an offending history, it’s important that decisions are made with proper understanding and not with prejudices about the criminal law system.
Whilst some offences will always be disclosed and from a public protection point of view, quite rightly so, ‘rehabilitation’ is the key word and having a criminal record should never stand in the way of this important concept.
* The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act was signed earlier this Summer but at time of writing has not yet been implemented. According to the Government, December 3rd 2012 seems a likely date for it to come into force.