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Category: Wipe the slate clean

Blog – Join the #FairChecks movement to help get a fresh start for the criminal records system

In the 1960s, when Richard was 16, he was found in possession of a small amount of cannabis. He was prosecuted for possession and given a one-year conditional discharge. As a student a few years later, Richard got into trouble again and was convicted of taking an item of food from a warehouse where he worked stacking shelves. He was given a one-year conditional discharge and put the mistake behind him.

After fifty years of good behaviour, a productive career and many positions of responsibility, Richard believed his record was clear. He was approaching seventy when his son wanted to join a choir and as a dad, Richard needed an enhanced DBS check. He suddenly discovered that the police were still listing his youthful mistakes as criminal convictions. Richard feels he is being punished for things that happened decades ago.

When you look at this record, it looks dreadful. But I was never really the drug taking thief that it suggests – I was a young person who made a couple of silly mistakes. But it’s harder than you would ever believe to correct the impression this record creates, even though no-one apart from me knows or should care about what happened over forty years ago.”

Because of this “new” old record, Richard had to go through the shame and embarrassment of disclosing a criminal record that was older than some of the panel considering his case. He feels unable to apply for third sector work he would like to do. He believes he is being prevented from contributing to society in a way the justice system never intended.

“I thought that conditional discharges were invented to help people get back on track – but since the invention of the CRB/DBS, people like me are shackled with old records they cannot get deleted. This creates a problem that never goes away. We have lost faith in the capacity of people to learn from their mistakes and to change for the better.”

Around one in six people in England & Wales have a criminal record. Whether it resulted in a prison sentence or a fine, a criminal record can be disclosed on a standard or enhanced criminal record check for the rest of their life. Even a minor criminal history produces lifelong barriers that can block reintegration and participation in society. The vast majority of people won’t have been to prison, and many don’t even realise they still have a criminal record until they apply for a new job or volunteer role that involves a standard or enhanced criminal record check.

People like Richard must declare their convictions if they want to be a traffic warden or taxi driver aged 50.  A person can change quickly, particularly when they are young, but their criminal record remains.

Our current criminal records disclosure regime prevents people from achieving their full potential. It can be particularly crippling for employment, with 75% of employers discriminating against applicants because of a criminal record, and 50% of employers saying they would not recruit offenders or ex-offenders. The stigma attached means that if a conviction or caution is revealed, people often don’t get the chance to explain how they have turned their life around.

An increasing number of employers require DBS checks, and we know that many convictions and cautions that are revealed on these checks can be from many years, sometimes decades, ago. For example, research published by Unlock in 2018 showed that in the previous 5 years, over 1 million criminal records that related to offences from more than 30 years ago (when the person involved was between the ages of 10-25) were disclosed on standard or enhanced criminal record checks.

This happens without any good evidence that shows disclosing criminal records makes society safer. What the evidence does show is that time-passed is a key indicator – research from the US academic Karl Hanson shows that after 10 years offence-free (5 years for children), the risk presented by most individuals with a criminal record is not meaningfully different from that of the general population This begs the question why so many convictions from so many years ago keep on being disclosed on DBS checks.

In January 2019, the Supreme Court gave its judgment in an important case that Unlock intervened in. The case focused on the rules that determine what gets disclosed on standard and enhanced DBS checks. The Supreme Court ruled that two aspects of the rules are disproportionate and in breach of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The government has yet to properly respond to this ruling.

The inclusion of old and minor offences on DBS checks carried out for employment and volunteering opportunities remains the single biggest issue that people contact Unlock about. This ultimately comes down to the rules (known as ‘filtering’ rules) that determine what gets revealed and what comes off a standard or enhanced check. Working to change the rules has been one of our priority areas for a number of years.

That’s why, together with Transform Justice, Unlock has set up the #FairChecks movement. The #FairChecks movement has been launched to advocate for reform of our outdated criminal records regime. We would like the government to reduce the length of time a record is revealed and remove out of date information from DBS checks. And we are asking MPs to get the government to work out how to do this by launching a major review of the legislation on the disclosure of criminal records. If you are interested in reforming the criminal records system so that everybody can fulfil their potential, visit where you can join the movement and write to your local MP.

Launch of #FairChecks – A fresh start for the criminal records system

Together with the charity Transform Justice, Unlock has launched the #FairChecks movement to help push for a fresh start for the criminal records system.

Our outdated criminal records regime is holding hundreds of thousands of people back from participating fully in society. Even a minor criminal history can produce lifelong barriers to employment, volunteering, housing and even travelling abroad, many years after people have moved on from their past. The system needs to change.

The #FairChecks movement is calling for the government to launch a major review of the legislation on the disclosure of criminal records to reduce the length of time a record is revealed.

Commenting on the site, Christopher Stacey, co-director of Unlock, said:

“People who have made mistakes in the past find themselves locked out of jobs and opportunities, unable to fully contribute to society or to achieve their potential because of a criminal record that is effectively a life sentence. Helping people to secure employment, support their families and contribute to the economy is one of the best ways of making communities safer. Yet the law as it stands means people are forced to reveal criminal records to employers and others for many years – sometimes for the rest of their lives.

“Unlock is delighted to be partnering with Transform Justice to launch the #FairChecks movement to help push for a major review of the legislation on the disclosure of criminal records. Everyone should have the opportunity to unleash their potential and make a positive contribution to society. Everyone should have the opportunity of a fresh start. The #FairChecks site is a crucial way for people to show their MP that they support reform of the criminal record disclosure system.”

Penelope Gibbs, director of Transform Justice, said:

“People want to move on from their past but our criminal records disclosure system is a barrier. Transform Justice is pleased to be partnering with Unlock to launch a movement for reform of the system. We know that everybody who has been in trouble with the law should have the opportunity of a fresh start”

How can you help?

Use the #FairChecks site to get the support of your local MP.
Because it is the government that has to make changes to the law, we need the support of MPs. You can help by getting the support of your local MP. The first step is to use the #FairChecks website to send them a letter letting them know that a fair criminal records system is important to you.

Share the #FairChecks site on social media.
Please tweet a link to the site using the hashtag #FairChecks, share it on Facebook and LinkedIn and highlight it with your networks, directing people to the website

Support it as an organisation.
Alongside encouraging individuals to use #FairChecks to write to their MP, we are keen for organisations to be part of this too. We want to encourage organisations to show their public support for #FairChecks through Twitter, other social media and blogs, and please do get in touch with us if your organisation is interested in showing its support in other ways.


For more information about #FairChecks, visit

Unlock comment: Ministry of Justice plans on criminal record reform

Commenting on today’s announcement (15 July) by the Ministry of Justice on plans to make changes to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974, Christopher Stacey, co-director of Unlock, said:

“Unlock very much welcomes and supports today’s announcement by the Justice Secretary. If his commitment proceeds to statute, it will mean more people with criminal records being able to get jobs and make a positive contribution to society. The current criminal records disclosure regime does little to promote rehabilitation or serve public protection, but it does result in people being locked out of jobs and opportunities, often for the rest of their life, because of a criminal record that serves as a second sentence.

“England and Wales has one of the most punitive criminal record disclosure regimes in Europe – and there’s no evidence that it’s reducing crime. Getting people with convictions into work, supporting their families and contributing to the economy is one of the best ways of making communities safer. Evidence shows that more than half of men, and three quarters of women who receive a conviction, will never be convicted again. That is why we have long campaigned for a system that enables all convictions to become ‘spent’ at some point.

“This would enable more people that have received prison sentences of over 4 years to reach the stage, after a period of living crime-free, where their criminal record becomes ‘spent’, and for many others enable their conviction to become spent much sooner than at present, within a proportionate, evidence informed timeframe. This means they will no longer be required to unnecessarily disclose it for most jobs or education courses, nor for housing or insurance.

“However, there is little point in having more people reach this stage if employers can continue to discriminate. There are fundamental questions as to how effective the legislation is in a society where information remains online and employers regularly ask about spent convictions even if they are not entitled to know about them. The government needs to make sure that the legislation does what it is intended to do – give people a chance to live free of the stigma of their past. We urge the government to use this opportunity to do that work, and we look forward to working with them so that law-abiding people with convictions have a real chance to move on positively with their lives without their criminal record hanging over them.”


  1. We understand that the plans are focused on the Ministry of Justice making changes to Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974, which sets out the time periods for which criminal records become ‘spent’, at which point they are not disclosed on basic criminal record checks. It is important to note that once convictions become spent, they are not wiped from police records, and they remain available for disclosure when applying for work in certain roles such as becoming a solicitor (which involves a standard DBS check) or roles involving children or vulnerable groups (which involve an enhanced DBS checks).
  2. Find out more about our policy work on reform of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974.
  3. The government is yet to respond to the Supreme Court judgment from January of this year. That ruling is focused on the rules that determine what is disclosed (or filtered) from standard and enhanced criminal record checks.


Blog – Westminster Hall debate on the disclosure of youth criminal records

The 28th March saw a Westminster Hall debate on the disclosure of youth criminal records (read here or watch here). This followed the publication of the Justice Select Committee’s report on the subject, back in 2017. The report itself was a result of the Committee’s inquiry into disclosure of youth criminal records, launched in 2016, and in some ways a follow-up to their inquiry on the treatment of young adults in the justice system.

Bob Neill MP, Chair of the Committee, introduced the debate and thanked Unlock and the Standing Committee for Youth Justice for the evidence we provided. As part of the inquiry, we had arranged a seminar for Committee members and people with convictions to meet and discuss the impact of disclosing criminal records from childhood.

The government had committed to considering the Committee’s recommendations following the Supreme Court’s ruling on the filtering rules.

The debate was well informed and MPs highlighted the effects of disclosure on employment, education, housing, travel and insurance. Key points included:

John Spellar: “Is not there also an overall, macroeconomic issue, particularly as a number of employers are expressing concerns about shortfalls in labour either leading up to or following Brexit? Artificially restricting people from working and, indeed, from advancing is not just bad for those individuals, shocking though that is, but very bad for society and the economy.”

Bob Neill: “Low-paid and unsatisfactory jobs create burdens at every level, so the point is entirely true”.

David Lammy: “Trident – They were the ones who said to me, “Could you put this [criminal records] into your review? We are aware of a group of offenders who reach about 25 or 26 years old and want to move away from their criminal past but continue to reoffend because, as they grow up, they cannot get a job due to the [disclosure] regime that we have.”

This, in particular, resonates at a time when serious youth violence is dominating the headlines. What hope is there of reducing violence if young people with even minor criminal records see that it is impossible for them to get into legitimate, sustainable employment? This has an impact on these young men, their communities and wider society. As Victoria Prentis said:

“Does ruining their lives serve any real, practical purpose for the rest of society?”

The fundamental issue is the purpose of ongoing disclosure, and whether the existing regime delivers on that purpose – or actually hampers other good work going on in the justice system.

As David Lammy said, the Supreme Court judgment provides an opportunity:

“The Supreme Court decision could be interpreted narrowly by the Government, but from reading the report, the Committee’s mood suggests that it is an opportunity, notwithstanding all that is going on in Parliament, for the Government to take a broader view and to review our criminal records regime.

“My view is that there should be a balance between a rules-based system, which is largely what we have, and which is clearly cheaper—that is effectively why we have it, because there is time and one makes a judgment about spent convictions and disclosure—and a system that is slightly more sophisticated and might cost slightly more. There is a question about who pays. In the Canadian jurisdiction, the individuals seeking to get their criminal records looked at again pay for the system. In my view, a parole board, a magistrate or a judge could make the assessment.”

David Hanson has recently published his review into prison education provision in Wales. In the debate, he said:

“We focus in the report on training, employment and through-the-gate services, including prison and youth offender institution training and community rehabilitation companies in adult prisons and elsewhere…but whatever the system does with that training, someone ultimately has to get a job with a public sector body or an employer.”

Ban the Box was supported by all contributors – it’s not a silver bullet, said Bob Neill, but a base on which to build.

The Civil Service has now rolled out Ban the Box across all departments, and Liz Savile Roberts MP asked how many people with criminal records were employed in the Ministry of Justice – more on this later.

David Hanson is a keen advocate for Ban the Box. As he put it:

“The simple idea…is that disclosure happens after the job interview and job offer. The right to refuse is still there, but the judgments are made on the merits of the application and the individual in front of the employer—not on a conviction that may have happened some years ago.”

This is exactly the approach Unlock advocates: ask about criminal records only after an offer has been made (although we know not all Ban the Box employers do it this way).

As David Lammy highlighted, it’s important to understand where Ban the Box sits within reform of criminal records disclosure:

“…the problem with that initiative is, first, that it is voluntary and, secondly, that it is about the recruitment stage? The fundamental point about the work by the Select Committee and others who have raised this issue is that, beyond recruitment, there are questions about whether things should be disclosed to employers in the first place. It would be important for the Government not to lose that principle.”

There were many other excellent points made but I want to turn now to the responses from Edward Argar, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice, on behalf of the government. The government has yet to formally respond to the Supreme Court’s judgment in the cases of P and others. No formal response was forthcoming here either, instead the Minister said:

We work closely with the Home Office to give these things proper consideration. Although that judgment has been handed down, the order behind it has not yet been sent over to us. We await that order. When it is received, it is important that we are speedy and timely in addressing it.”

The Minister agreed that employment is a crucial factor in reducing reoffending – which costs 15bn a year on some estimates.

“…employers should not regard the disclosure of a criminal record as an automatic barrier to employment. A balanced judgment should be exercised, having regard to factors such as a person’s age at the time of the offence, how long ago it was, and the relevance to the application or post in question.”

Unfortunately, all the evidence shows that employers do regard a criminal record as a barrier to employment. This point was made several times during the debate, and also by Lord Kerr in the Supreme Court judgment. Given the government’s efforts to get prisoners into work on release, and their manifesto commitment to incentivising employers to recruit people with convictions, it seems odd to not acknowledge the real difficulties people face in gaining employment.

Perhaps the Minister’s perception is skewed by the apparently impressively inclusive approach of his own department. In response to Liz Savile Roberts’ question on the number of people with convictions employed at the Ministry of Justice, he said:

“My understanding is that of those people with a previous conviction who applied through the approach that has been taken in the civil service since 2016, 92% subsequently secured employment, which is a positive outcome.”

That certainly seems like a positive outcome. However, there doesn’t appear to be an official source for that figure, and we would welcome publication of the data because it’s important to understand this is context, such as the numbers it involves, what types of criminal records, how long ago, and why the 8% were refused.

I was pleased to see that the Minister agreed that the judgment – and the actions that must follow – creates an opportunity to consider the Committee’s recommendations for reform of the criminal records system. I hope this will mean that the Ministry of Justice (along with the Home Office) taken an holistic view of the current regime, its aims and the evidence, and look to make changes that benefit individuals with convictions, their communities and wider society.


Written by Christopher Stacey

Find out the latest on reform of the criminal records regime in our policy section on DBS filtering.

Press and media coverage of the Supreme Court judgment


There has been a significant amount of press and media attention on the judgment of the Supreme Court which ruled that the criminal records disclosure scheme as it applies to multiple convictions and childhood warnings/reprimands was found to be disproportionate.

Our co-director, Christopher Stacey, gave interviews on the day of the judgment which were featured on BBC News at 10, Sky News, Channel 5, Radio 4, BBC Essex and LBC. You can listen again to Christopher speaking on Radio Kent (listen below, 1m 35s in) on how the ruling will help many thousands of people with old and minor convictions.

More coverage of the ruling. including quotes from Unlock, can also be found in the following publications

There has also been a number of helpful commentary pieces that look more closely at the judgment. These include:

Unlock letter to Justice Committee on Government’s response to report on youth criminal records

Unlock and the Standing Committee for Youth Justice (SCYJ) have written to the Justice Select Committee (JSC) regarding our concerns over the Government’s response to the JSC’s inquiry into the disclosure of childhood criminal records.

Christopher Stacey, Co-director of Unlock, sets out our concerns that the Government is using the Supreme Court case on DBS check filtering, expected to be heard in June, as an excuse for not addressing the recommendations made by the JSC.

The letter also discusses specific concerns, for example that the proposed new guidance by the Government on criminal records disclosure will simply have to be reviewed once reform takes place. We ask the Government to publish the Civil Service’s Ban the Box implementation plan, and to commit to undertake research into the costs of unemployment among people with a criminal record, as recommended in the Lammy review. We also raise concerns around clarifications needed in housing allocation guidance.

The full letter is available here.

Blog – Is ‘sealing’ criminal records the best way to help people turn their lives around?

The latest blog by Christopher Stacey looks at David Lammy’s recommendation to ‘seal’ criminal records and explains why it’s a good idea and how it could work.

Read it here.

Watch our oral evidence to the Justice Committee inquiry into the disclosure of youth criminal records

Earlier today co-director, Christopher Stacey, gave evidence to the Justice Committee’s inquiry into the disclosure of youth criminal records.

You can watch the session here or below.


More information

  1. Posts about our work on youth criminal records can be found here.
  2. The specific details of the inquiry are here
  3. There are more general details about the work of the Justice Committee here

Our evidence to the Justice Committee inquiry into Youth Criminal Records published

Our written evidence to the Justice Committee’s inquiry into the disclosure of youth criminal records has been published on the Parliament website.

Alongside a number of recommendations, we’ve included five anonymous personal experiences. Next week, we’re taking a small group of people to Westminster to share their personal stories with MP’s on the Committee.


The specific details of the inquiry are here

There are more general details about the work of the Justice Committee here


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