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Gone but not forgotten – Understanding the meaning of a spent conviction

A spent conviction presents real opportunities for people to move on with their lives following a conviction but Amy wants more to be done so that people with a criminal record can truly put their past mistakes behind them.

At the beginning of May I reached another mile stone in my criminal justice journey – my conviction became spent. Ten years from that day in court I am, according to the law, a fully rehabilitated individual.


But what does it mean. Well, I’ll pay less for my house and car insurance and I’ll no longer have to go to one of those ‘specialist’ insurers; I can apply for lots of jobs without having to disclose my conviction and my basic DBS certificate will now be blank – “nothing to see here”. I can be a trustee of a charity without having to apply for a waiver and I can apply to Google to have the links to my name removed.

So as you can see it’s a pretty big deal in the life of a person with a criminal record. It feels strange then that there are so few people I can share it with and it’s obviously not the done-thing to celebrate. If you go into Clintons Cards they’ll be a choice of ‘Happy Divorce Day’ cards but not one saying ‘Congratulations on your spent conviction’. I get it – it’s not something to be proud of, I shouldn’t have broken the law in the first place.

This really got me thinking – they’ll be lots of times when I’ll no longer need to disclose my conviction but it will always be there, not just in my head but still on the Police National Computer. If I want to apply for a job that’s exempt from the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act it will appear on my standard or enhanced DBS certificate and if I want to travel overseas I’ll have to disclose it on visa application forms.

Just think about that for a minute. The law says that I don’t need to disclose my spent conviction to fly a plane for British Airways or serve in the British Army, presumably because I pose no risk. But, if I want to be a football steward or a bouncer in a nightclub I’ll have to disclose and it’s more than likely that an employer will reject my application just because my DBS certificate isn’t ‘clean’.

As it stands, my criminal record will never be eligible for filtering and although I’m sure that my conviction isn’t relevant to a football steward/bouncer job, there’s no mechanism in place that would allow the DBS to apply a discretionary filtering process and disclose only those convictions relevant to the job.

It’s sad to think that my criminal justice journey has come to an end and where I am now is as good as it’s going to get. That’s not to say that I’m disheartened, I know there are people in a fair worse place than me and I’m hopeful that there is an appetite for change. 2014 saw changes made to the ROA for the first time in 40 years and at the start of 2019, the Supreme Court ruled that some aspects of the current filtering regime were disproportionate and breached the European Convention on Human Rights. We just need to ensure that we put pressure on the government to act now and make those changes so that those of us who truly want to move on and leave the past behind can.

By Amy  (name changed to protect identity)

A comment from Unlock

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

Useful links

  • Comment – Let us know your thoughts on this post by commenting below.
  • Information – We have practical self-help information on the filtering of spent cautions/convictions.
  • Discuss this issue – There are some interesting discussions related to filtering on our online forum.

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