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8. The media

This section covers what to do if your criminal record is in the public domain wrongfully, either by traditional or social media.

  • As standard, adult convictions are a matter of public record and the media have the right, therefore, to publish that information. Indeed, since 2009 governments have taken a more proactive approach in supporting the publication of such information. Youth justice convictions are different, with information likely to identify those convicted restricted (though a court can lift this restriction if they believe it is in the public interest to do so).

    With regards to publishing historic convictions, however, the picture can become more complex. The publication of information regarding spent convictions can breach the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974. Legally, publishing information about an individual’s spent conviction amounts to publishing an untruth, and accusations of defamation. However, it is not illegal to do so, it is only illegal for someone to then make a decision taking account of a spent conviction.

    You can contact someone who published information about spent convictions and ask that reference to them be removed, and advise Google than any cached reference also need to be removed. If they refuse, you could threaten them with a lawsuit for defamation, the threat of which may be enough to achieve the desired outcome. However, organisations can defend themselves by arguing that they are acting in the “public interest”, the definition of which can be very broad.

    If published information about you is inaccurate, and the publisher of it refuses to change it upon request, you can complain to the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO). Things become more complex again if the published information about your conviction breaches the privacy of others. An organisation such as MediaWise may be able to offer advice on these matters. Unlock’s website has guidance on these issues here.

  • Information shared by individuals on social media can also be a problem. Where individuals, either maliciously or otherwise, share information about your past on social media there might be an opportunity to challenge this information on either a data protection or right to privacy basis. The first step would be to follow any procedures outlined by the platform in question. Should this not lead to a satisfactory outcome, you could raise the issue with the police. There are a number of laws that may be relevant in this instance, but your first step would be contact the police on 101 as it would not be treated as an emergency matter. It may be sensible to take screenshots of online posts that you are genuinely concerned about.

    You can also, more generally, contact search engines themselves to ask that links to your name be removed. Further information on this can be found on the Unlock website here.

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