Posts Tagged 'Court of Appeal'

All these things that I’ve done…

Offences can stay on a criminal record no matter how long ago the trial. How are criminal records treated and who needs to disclose what?

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.

Weak become heroes…

Gary Dobson and David Norris - today sentenced for the murder of Stephen Lawrence

Yesterday David Norris and Gary Dobson were found guilty of Stephen Lawrence’s racially motivated murder in Eltham in 1993. Today they have been sentenced to life imprisonment – Norris for a minimum of fourteen years and three months, Dobson for a minimum of fifteen years and two months,

I wanted to use this post to reflect on both what the case has meant for me as a police officer about to end my first two years in the job and also a little on what the legacy of the trial ought to mean.

In the wake of the murder, the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry, led by Sir Macpherson, branded the Metropolitan Police to be ‘institutionally racist’.

The damning conclusions reached by Macpherson suggested that because of racist attitudes within the Met, they had been unable to conduct an effective investigation appropriate to Stephen’s murder and that justice had suffered as a result.

A major change in attitudes was clearly needed.

As a direct result of Stephen’s death and the campaigning of his family, changes for the better have been achieved and continue to be achieved.

In legal terms visible examples include the overturning of the double jeopardy rule and the passing into law of the Race Relations Amendment Act which places upon public bodies a duty to eliminate discrimination and promote equality.

In terms of police training, much of the legislation we are taught when we first join the job is set against a background of how in the past errors have been made and what the lessons are.

Showing how importantly this consideration – the desire to learn from history so to avoid its repetition – is taken, the first week of the eighteen week course is dedicated to looking at issues surrounding diversity and discrimination.

Past cases are discussed – the Brixton Riots, Toxteth, Lawrence, Climbie, Baby P to name a few – and the learning points discussed so that new officers understand the consequences of previous failings.

One of the most important things I’d taken away from looking at such tragic examples was a stark reminder that when I applied to be a police officer, I didn’t apply to offer protection to only some members of society. I didn’t apply join a service in which public confidence in ability to do our job varied according to the colour of someone’s skin, their background or where they come from.

Appreciations about racist and hate crime of course don’t end with the finish of training school and actively permeate throughout the police force, be it in the regular training inputs available or in the practical way in which we tackle crimes involving a hate element.

Hate crimes in particular attract specific attention from specialist evidence review teams whilst cases are still with the police to ensure the highest quality of investigation and then once they reach the courts, a perception of a hate motivation qualifies for the passing of tougher sentences.

As for the legacy of the trial, it’s taken eighteen years to bring those responsible to justice. The strain on Stephen’s family who had campaigned tirelessly ever since his death is unimaginable and it may be tempting to see the conviction of Norris and Dobson as ‘case closed’.

This I think would be the worse possible outcome – Stephen’s legacy is something that lives on, that continues as a force for positive change and that is, and always will be, an important lesson on how we police.

As Mark Easton writes on the BBC News website, “Problems still exist but Britain is much more at ease with its racial diversity than it was two decades ago. And that tolerance, in no small part, is the legacy of a teenage boy: Stephen Lawrence.”

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