Drop minor convictions from criminal record checks, court rules


Solicitor Mike Pemberton: "A common sense ruling"

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All police cautions and minor convictions should not have to be disclosed in criminal record checks, the Supreme Court has ruled.

Judges said any requirement to do so would be incompatible with human rights legislation in England and Wales.

The ruling affects those applying for certain kinds of jobs involving work with children or the vulnerable.

It upholds a Court of Appeal ruling in the case of a job applicant forced to reveal cautions he received aged 11.

He was supported by human rights campaign group Liberty, which said the Supreme Court's judgement was "an injection of proportionality into our criminal records system".

The man whose case was considered by the court, identified as "T", said he had been forced to disclose warnings he received from Greater Manchester Police in connection with the alleged theft of two bicycles.

His records were later checked when he applied for a part-time job at a football club aged 17 and later for a university course in sports studies.


Clive Coleman, BBC legal affairs correspondent

The figure of Lady Justice, at the top of the dome of the Central Criminal Court

For how long should a criminal conviction or caution affect a person's employment prospects, and when should it recede into a "protected" personal past? That is the issue at the heart of today's ruling.

The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 provides that, after a period, a person's criminal convictions are spent, so don't need to be disclosed to prospective employers. A caution is spent as soon as it is given.

However, until T's successful Court of Appeal case last year, there was a regime under which, for certain jobs including those working with children and the vulnerable, all convictions and cautions which would otherwise have been spent were disclosed.

Brought in in the wake of the Soham murders, it was an attempt to safeguard the young and the vulnerable but was seen by many as penalising those with minor spent convictions and cautions.

Today's ruling, combined with the filtering system introduced by the Home Office, means some past cautions and convictions will remain part of a "protected" private life and play no part in a person's application for a job.


Another instance involved a woman, identified by the court as "JB", who challenged the checks after she was refused a job in a care home eight years after receiving a caution for shoplifting.

Making their ruling, the Supreme Court judges said the disclosures T and JB had been required to make "were not necessary in a democratic society" and "were not based on any rational assessment of risk".

Filtering system

Around four million people apply for a criminal records check every year.

Last year, three Court of Appeal judges said the blanket checks could breach the right to a private or family life.

After that ruling, the judges said it would be a matter for Parliament to decide what amendments to make to records check rules.

The Home Office has since introduced a system to filter out single minor convictions or cautions.

Bikes "T" was forced to tell a potential employer that he had been cautioned, aged 11, over bicycle theft

But the government pursued an appeal against the Court of Appeal ruling, saying the "protection of children and vulnerable groups must not be compromised".

Lawyers for Home Secretary Theresa May and Justice Secretary Chris Grayling argued that the court's ruling was too broad and could affect hundreds of thousands of recruitment decisions where convictions were "plainly relevant".

Working with children

The Supreme Court - the highest court in the UK and the final court of appeal in cases of public importance - heard the case on 9 December but has only just announced its decision to rule against the government.

Under the new filtering system, cautions given to adults are removed from criminal records checks after six years.

Cautions to children are filtered out after two years.

Nicola Inge, of Business in the Community - which campaigns to remove the criminal record tick box from job applications - said she was "really happy" with the court's verdict.

She told BBC Radio 5 Live employers often had a "knee jerk reaction" to learning of an applicant's convictions, and applicants were not given the opportunity to explain the "context".

James Welch, Liberty's legal director, added: "Rules which allowed for blanket disclosure left no room for common sense and let irrelevant and unreliable information ruin lives."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 340.

    The willingness to rehabilitate is a cornerstone in any developed society. The greatest motivation for criminal behaviour in otherwise good people is disenfranchisement, so to prevent people from moving forward from past mistakes and integrate themselves in society is to encourage more crime. It is fear that drives the desire to permanently brand people, and no law should be based on fear.

  • rate this

    Comment number 229.

    The outrageous thing is that if one commits a crime as a juvenile and is cautioned, this remains on your record. As one matures and as most of us do, turn into decent hard working people. One will be blighted by their adolescent act. On the other hand, as a juvenile you commit an atrocity the system protect one. Let us not discriminate against those cautioned for a one off adolescent act.

  • rate this

    Comment number 228.

    We need clear rules on this issue. Once someone has paid their debt to society, they should be considered rehabilitated and readmitted to everyday life. All cautions should have an expiry date determined when they are issued. Sentences should also have an expiry date, based the risks of future reoffending, determined by the judge. Only the most serious offences should not have an expiry date.

  • rate this

    Comment number 226.

    On my 16th birthday I was with friends, one of which committed a shoplifting offence. We ALL received a caution and it is now always on my record as the rules changed, previously cautions used to drop off after 5 years if no other offences. I'm now a chartered accountant, but this has caused me problems with uni, job and professional body applications. This is sensible move if applied correctly.

  • rate this

    Comment number 162.

    Terrible decision! As an employer AND family man, I would want to know a) If anyone we hire has a dubious past. b) If anyone who enters our home or befriends our young is a potential bad influence. Why? Because not everyone changes as they age.


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