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Senior judge says government must ‘pull it’s finger out’ on criminal record checks

  • New Court of Appeal ruling could mean a change for 9.2 million Britons with criminal records
  • Master of the Rolls, Lord Dyson, said today that the Government should “pull its finger out” to reform the system
  • Ruling adds further pressure after recent ruling in separate case in the European Court of Human Rights

Unlock, the charity for people with convictions, has welcomed Lord Dyson’s remarks which support their continued call for changes to how the UK treats criminal record information. At a hearing at the Court of Appeal today the Master of the Rolls, Lord Dyson, said that the Government should “pull its finger out” to reform the system until recently known as CRB checks.

The Court of Appeal has found that the current system of disclosing all convictions, cautions, reprimands and warnings, no matter how old, minor or irrelevant, is not compatible with Article 8 of the Human Rights Act- the right to a private and family life. Criminal record checks, provided in England by the Disclosure and Barring Service, are available to employers recruiting for certain roles and are also used by educational establishments.

Chris Bath, Unlock’s executive director said, “Under the current system, even the most minor childhood convictions are kept on record until a person’s 100th birthday. They will always be disclosed on a criminal records check. Evidence from our helpline for people with convictions shows that this is forcing people onto benefits. There will be no ‘rehabilitation revolution’ until people have a real opportunity to leave crime behind.”

The case in the Court of Appeal involved a man who had received police warnings at the age of 11. The information was disclosed when seeking a job as a 17 year old and later when he applied for university. The case highlights the long term effects of criminal record, even those gained as a child. It has parallels with the experience of former Police & Crime candidate Bob Ashford, who was forced to stand down due to having received a fine of £2 and 10 Shillings as a 13 year old in 1966 and later launched the ‘Wipe the Slate Clean’ campaign with support from charities including user Voice and Unlock.

Figures obtained by Unlock show the scale of the issue. There are now 9.2 million in the UK with criminal records on the Police National Computer, with one in three men having a criminal conviction by the age of 53. 26% of the 4.9 million open claims for benefit are made by people who have gained a conviction in the last 10 years.

Combined with the European Court of Human Rights’ recent condemnation of the lack of scope for discretion in the UK’s criminal records disclosure system, the Court of Appeal’s decision could have significant implications on the criminal record disclosure system.

The Government has made positive changes to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 which will come into force in Spring 2013. These will reduce the periods that many people have to disclose their convictions for some jobs. However, jobs for which a criminal record check is conducted will continue to bypass this legislation.

Unlock representative Christopher Stacey, who was a member of the government’s Independent Advisory Panel on Disclosure of Criminal Records, said, “In 2011 Unlock provided the Government with clear proposals on how a system of filtering old and minor convictions could work. We now look forward to reforms that give the millions of people with convictions a fair opportunity to provide for themselves and their families.”


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Debbie Sadler
Head of Advice

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