This Justice Select Committee report highlights the urgent need for reform of the system for the disclosure of childhood criminal records. Current practice means that youth criminal records are rarely expunged and as a result those affected are unfairly prevented from accessing education, employment, housing and insurance.
The report highlights the fact that the existing disclosure practice undermines the principles of the youth justice system. The principle aim of the youth justice system is to prevent children offending and re-offending, which is less likely to be achieved if they are held back by old convictions. The current practice is likely to fall short of the UK’s obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and has a discriminatory impact on children from a BAME background and those in care, who are already disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system
The Committee recommends:
- Lord Ramsbotham’s Criminal Records Bill to reduce rehabilitation periods under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 should be enacted;
- An urgent review of the filtering regime, to consider removing the rule preventing the filtering of multiple convictions; introducing lists of non-filterable offences customised for particular areas of employment, together with a threshold rest for disclosure based on disposal/ sentence, and reducing qualifying periods for the filtering of childhood convictions and cautions;
- Considering the feasibility of extending this new approach, possibly with modifications, to the disclosure of offences committed by young adults up to the age of 25;
- Allowing chief police officers additional discretion to withhold disclosure, taking into account age and the circumstances of the offences, with a rebuttable presumption against disclosure of offences committed during childhood;
- Giving individuals the right to apply for a review by the Independent Monitor of police decisions to disclose convictions of cautions.
The Committee also concluded:
- Responsibility for Government policy on this area should be consolidated into a single department.
- Applicants for public sector jobs should be able to delay the point at which they have to disclose criminal convictions by ticking a box on application forms, allowing them to be judged primarily on merit. The Government should consider making this a mandatory requirement for all employers.
Relevant court decisions:
In the case of R (P, G and W) – v – Secretary of State for the Home Department (May 2017 ), the Court of Appeal concluded that the current system is not “in accordance with the law” as required by Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The Government has appealed to the Supreme Court.
In the 2016 case of YA – v – London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham, the High Court found the council’s refusal to house a 19 year old care leaver due to his offending between the ages of 12 and 15 amounted to a breach of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974.
The findings of the Justice Committee echo the concerns raised by the Court of Appeal. It is clear that the current system of disclosure of criminal records undermining the rehabilitation of children and those with childhood criminal records. Those who made mistakes as children are not allowed to move on and society as a whole is unable to benefit from their potential contribution. The Justice Committee have concluded the current regime is flawed, inflexible and results in injustice. The Justice Committee have made clear and practical suggestions as to how the situation can begin to be remedied.