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Tag: MoJ white paper

Unlock responds to the Ministry of Justice sentencing white paper

Unlock have today published our full response to the government’s recent white paper proposing amendments to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act.

Read our full response here

After many years of campaigning for real reforms, the MoJ white paper is a frustrating read both for Unlock and for anyone who is concerned about criminal records.

The white paper does propose that disclosure periods should generally be reduced, and Unlock certainly support these measures. We also support the MoJ’s goal to improve employment prospects and reduce discrimination.

However, we believe that the proposed changes are fundamentally limited. They do not even apply to everyone who has served a custodial sentence, let alone the hundreds of thousands each year who are given a fine.

Most importantly, the proposals do not consider whether criminal records disclosure is actually a useful approach, or whether it offers any positive sides at all. The MoJ just assume that disclosure does something of value and only set out to make small adjustments without asking if a wholly different approach would deliver better results.

In 2012, the government of the day looked at criminal record disclosure and promised “radical” reforms in their “Breaking the cycle” white paper, but they did not make any structural changes and as a result the gains never materialized. Today’s MoJ are making the same mistakes; tweaking the numbers instead of looking at deeper issues.

Unlock does believe that the reductions to spending periods will be positive, but we also believe that this alone is not enough to make a real difference. As long as all people with criminal records are required to disclose their convictions once they have served their sentence, there will always be a substantial level of discrimination. Shortening the length of discrimination is positive, but all people who receive a criminal record will still suffer from it.

In our response, Unlock urge the MoJ to consider a more substantial package of reforms which will enable people with criminal records to live a normal life after they have served their sentence.

Unlock also encourage all of our supporters to contact their MP and the MoJ and put the case for more significant change. It is critical that this opportunity for change does not fall victim to a lack of vision and ambition. This may well be a once in a generation opportunity to make real change to the ROA, and it is critical that we push for as much change as possible.

Unlock want to hear from anyone that the MoJ have excluded from their changes – particularly those who’s convictions will still never become spent. Click here to tell us your story, and help us build the case for reform.

Read our other posts about the white paper

A smarter approach to criminal records?

On the 16th September the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) published it’s much anticipated white paper “A Smarter Approach To Sentencing”. It is a mixed bag, offering  ‘tough on crime’ sentencing measures along with some more positive reforms to criminal record disclosure periods.    

The MoJ says that they want to improve employment prospects for people with convictions, and so reduce reoffending, which sounds great. Given that they have also announced some positive changes you could be forgiven for thinking that reducing disclosure periods might actually ensure better access to employment. Unfortunately it’s a bit more complicated than that. 

Seen in a vacuum the proposals are somewhat progressive. A significant number of people, 15,000 per year, would see their convictions become spent more quickly, and no longer have to disclose them for most jobs. Many other people who have been living with an unspent criminal record for decades would finally be able to move on, as the proposed changes would enable some sentences over four years to become spent. That’s a strong start.  

Here are what the proposed disclosure periods look like in more detail:









There are three things that really jump out.   

Firstly, some sentences over four years would have the opportunity to become spent. The asterisks are quite significant, with most violent, sexual and terrorist offences excluded, which means only about 30% of longer sentences are eligible. But in spite of this, it would still be a big change. At the last review in 2014, even this limited version seemed impossible. 

Secondly, disclosure periods would be generally shortened, which would reduce the period people face discrimination forThis is certainly better than nothing, but the periods are still quite long even compared to other proposals from within Parliament. Lord Ramsbotham’s 2017 bill proposed cutting four year periods to two years, for example, but the MoJ has chosen to ignore this despite crossparty support.  

Finally; the shortest period of disclosures would cover sentences under 12 months, instead of only six months. This is in line with the changes we saw in Scotland, with all magistrates sentences being spent at the same rate . This would result in far fewer cases where the differences between regions and judges leads to a major difference in disclosure length.  

To put these changes into perspective; MoJ figures show 7,980 people were given sentences between six months and one year in 2019/20. At present they have to disclose their convictions for four years; under these proposals they would only have to disclose for one year. Around 7,500 people receive sentences of over 30 months each year, and they would only disclose for four years instead of seven after these changes. 

However, while shortened disclosure periods will certainly help thousands of people get their lives back on track, the white paper still seems to have missed the point. The proposals are a general relaxation, but they do little to actually improve employment prospects.  

The critical time for employment is at the beginning of the disclosure period, not the end. Finding the first job is the hardest part, when discrimination is most felt. Reducing the period of discrimination is positive, but the discrimination is still there and will still hold people backEven while the MoJ is making the right argument about employment, they don’t offer proposals to tackle this core issue. 

This can be seen in other places, especially in the rationale given for preventing most longer sentences becoming spent. The white paper justifies shortened disclosure periods by arguing that employment reduces reoffending. We completely agree, and the evidence backs this up. But a few paragraphs later, the paper says lifelong disclosure, and lifelong discrimination, is justified because reoffending would be particularly harmful. Surely if reoffending would be so bad it is even more important to do everything we can to reduce it, including improved access to employment? 

People with more serious convictions face more serious discrimination, and for longer. The MoJ knows this is a big factor in reoffending, but they are not doing anything to change it. Most alarmingly, by continuing with lifelong disclosure the MoJ is signalling that many thousands of people cannot be rehabilitated and always present a risk to the public, even after 40 or 50 years. 

In the end, while this paper says all the right things about employment and reoffending, the MoJ are content to leave the old system intact and not consider a genuinely new approach. They argue that discrimination is severe and needs to be addressed; but their proposals are only for less discrimination for some, and they don’t consider the possibility of zero discrimination. 

Of course, Unlock will be pushing for any change that helps people with convictions, even small ones. Better is still better. But our real goal over the coming year or two as the paper moves forward is to push the Government to be bolder and less restricted in their thinking, and to deliver a criminal records system that works for everyone.  

Written by Sam Doohan, Unlock Policy Officer


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Unlock’s response to Ministry of Justice plans to make reforms to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974

Commenting on today’s announcement (16 September) by the Ministry of Justice on plans to make changes to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 and the disclosure of criminal records, Christopher Stacey, co-director of Unlock, said: 

Unlock very much welcomes and supports today’s announcement by the Justice Secretary that disclosure periods for criminal records will be reduced. If these proposals proceed 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 system 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.  

Today’s announcement that some sentences of over four years in prison will no longer have to be disclosed when applying for most jobs if people are conviction-free seven years after completing their sentence is a positive step forward. We have long campaigned for a system that enables all convictions to become ‘spent’ at some point. For those that these proposals apply to, once they have completed their rehabilitation period they will no longer be required to disclose their conviction for most jobs or education courses, nor for housing or insurance. 

However, more than 8,000 people every year receive sentences of over four years and today’s proposals have wide-ranging exclusions which we understand will mean that around two-thirds of people sentenced to more than four years in prison will continue to have a lifelong ‘never spent’ conviction 

The risk of reoffending is consistently lower for those who have served longer sentences, and data on reoffending by index offence shows sexual and violent offences have lower rates of reoffending than many other categories. Exclusions by offence type risk creating unfairness and anomalies at the margins, further entrenching racial injustice and embedding the idea that some people are inherently incapable of rehabilitation. We do not believe that to be the case.  

We have long-supported Lord Ramsbotham’s Criminal Records Bill, and the proposals in that Bill are a pragmatic attempt to see positive change, given the rehabilitation periods for adults were recommended in the Breaking the Circle report in 2003, and accepted by the government of the time. The proposals today fall short by comparison 

Making changes so that more people have their convictions become spent sooner is a positive change. 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 from the stigma of their past. Today’s proposals do nothing to address these issues, which is why we continue to call for a root-and-branch review of the criminal records regime.  

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. We hope the government will listen and make sure that law-abiding people with convictions have a real chance to move on with their lives without their criminal record hanging over them. 



For media enquiries, please contact Ruth Davies, Digital and Communications Manager. Email or call 07458 393 194 

Notes to editors 

  • Unlock is an independent, award-winning national charity that provides a voice and support for people with convictions who are facing stigma and obstacles because of their criminal record, often long after they have served their sentence.   
  • High-resolution images for media use are available from Unlock’s Flickr account. 
  • Spent convictions can still be disclosed for jobs working with children or vulnerable adults, or in some trusted professions. What shows up on standard and enhanced DBS checks is determined by the filtering rules. 


Case studies  

Below are case studies of individuals where their conviction will remain a lifelong ‘never spent’ conviction because their offences are excluded under the proposals by the Ministry of Justice. 

Case study – Ian 

Ian joined his well-known firm in the early 1990s when few employers asked about criminal records. Over the years he developed his skills and now managed the office, earning a good salary. 

In 2019, the firm introduced new HR systems and retrospectively carried out basic DBS checks on all staff. Ian had been sentenced to 7.5 years in prison in the 1980s for his involvement in an armed robbery. Ian explained this to his employer, hopeful that his 25 years of service and exemplary work record would stand him in good stead. Despite this, the firm let Ian go – they said they couldn’t risk anyone finding out that one of their employees had an unspent conviction. Ian is claiming JSA while he looks for work.  

Case study – Amir 

At 17 Amir was convicted, under joint enterprise, for a serious assault on a man. He was sentenced to 6 years in prison. On release, he moved with his family to a new area and completed qualifications in business and IT. Amir eventually started a small business from home doing computer repairs and providing training.  

Now 29, Amir applied for a job in the training department of one of the big four accounting firms. After a telephone interview, assessment centre and face-to-face interview Amir was selected over the 18 other candidates. On receiving the offer, Amir disclosed his unspent conviction. The HR manager told him someone would be in touch. After three months of waiting, Amir contacted the UK Director of HR who said the company had a policy of not employing anyone with an unspent conviction. 

Case study – Anne 

Anne was convicted of the manslaughter of her husband and sentenced to 7 years. At her trial it was accepted that she was suffering from a psychiatric condition resulting from her husband’s abusive behaviour over two decades. Anne is out of prison now and volunteers as a speaker for a charity that supports victims of domestic abuse. 

Anne has applied for part-time work at a supermarket and a high street retailer but has been turned down both times because of her unspent conviction. She felt the interviewers were sympathetic when she disclosed but afterwards was told it was ‘company policy’ not to employ anyone with an unspent conviction. 

What is the rationale behind the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974?

In a week where the Justice Secretary, Robert Buckland, said that he was preparing a policy that looked at making changes to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 (ROA), we’re pleased to publish a paper by Dr Andrew Henley (Assistant Professor of Criminology at the University of Nottingham) on the rationale behind that piece of legislation.

The paper draws on the research conducted for Dr Henley’s doctoral thesis which examined the conception, passage and contestation of the ROA. Sections of this thesis were based on original archival research and Hansard records which were used to understand the rationale behind the ROA and the motivations of its sponsors.  It is revealed that whilst the architects of the ROA were mindful of the need for exemptions to its provisions, their motives were primarily compassionate and humanitarian, and concerned with the welfare of those who had successfully ‘lived down’ their convictions. They were also concerned with the fact that, in the early 1970s, the UK was out of step with international norms in not having a rehabilitation law.

The paper concludes that the principle of ‘spent convictions’ is now well-established and has been for nearly half a century. Any Government seeking to expanding arrangements so that more people with convictions can benefit from their record becoming ‘spent’ should face an easier task than the original proposers of the ROA given that exemptions to its effect are also well-established on safeguarding ground.  However, it would be quite wrong to reframe the original rationale of the ROA as being about ‘striking a balance’ between protecting the public or businesses from recidivist crime versus the rights of people with convictions to ‘live down’ their past offending.  Concerns with public protection played only a relatively small part in the debates which circulated around the legislation during its passage, given that there was always an intention to include exemptions to the effect of the law for these purposes.  The ROA is, therefore, better understood as motivated by humanitarian concerns and with the need for legislation in the UK to keep pace with that in other countries.

Download the paper here.

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