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We’ve voted to leave the EU – what are the consequences for people with a criminal record

The votes have been counted and we now know that we’ll be leaving the EU. The consequences could be huge, and the coming years may initially be economically and socially disruptive. But, how will it affect you if you have a criminal record?

This is a question that’s come up quite a bit over the last month or so. It’s still very unclear, but we’ve tried to answer some of the questions that we’ve had.


There has been talk that in the event of the UK leaving the single market, we’ll need a visa to travel to other EU countries.

The UK is second only to Germany in terms of tourists visiting other countries in the EU. We think it’s unlikely that the governments of Spain and Greece would single us out for tougher treatment at borders and we doubt there will be a need for visas to travel to the EU on holiday. If this were the case, there’d be no need to worry about disclosing your criminal record to get a visa like you do if you want to travel to the US.

If Brexit were to lead to a more radical split of the EU, then the Schengen arrangements (which controls border crossing between most of the member states) would presumably end and border checks may be re-introduced. We don’t feel this will happen any time soon.


Undergraduates in England pay the highest tuition fees in the world, leading to some students looking to go to cheaper European universities. The National Union of Students have said that the effect of Brexit may lead to student visas being required and international fees being charged for courses. The introduction of student visas may mean there would be a requirement to disclose a criminal record, irrespective of the course that you’ll be studying.


The ability to work in the EU without a work permit is down to our EU membership. One of the key arguments of the leave campaign was that we operate a quota system for migrant workers. If this is imposed, British citizens may face similar restrictions. As in the case of student visas, applying for a work permit (and perhaps a Police Certificate) may require you to disclose your criminal record in a way you don’t need to at the moment.

Exchange of criminal record data

Through the European Criminal Records Information System (ECRIS), an electronic exchange mechanism is in place for the sharing of information between EU members. ECRIS is not extended to any non-EU countries, however countries that are fully part of Schengen (i.e. Norway and Switzerland) do exchange information.

Broadly speaking, the EU court has rules that personal data can only be transferred to non-EU countries that have data protection laws ‘essentially equivalent’ to EU law. The UK would therefore have to commit to continuing to apply a law similar to EU law or risk disruptions in the flow of personal data. It’s likely that our data protection law will be ‘essentially equivalent’ to EU law.

European Convention on Human Rights

Currently the UK is a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), a code of conduct enforced by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. It exists separately from membership of the EU but it does have a fundamental impact on EU law decisions.

It’s worth noting that withdrawal from the EU will not automatically affect the UK’s status as a signatory to the ECHR.

Are our rehabilitation laws at risk?

The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 is a piece of legislation that the UK Government reformed in 2014. It should not be impacted by the UK leaving the EU.

The filtering mechanism brought into force in 2013 was off the back of a successful legal challenge which used ECHR arguments. However, the way it was introduced was through amendments to UK legislation, the Police Act 1997. Again, it should not be impacted by the UK leaving the EU.

For more information

  1. To discuss this issue with others – Read and share your experiences on Brexit on our online forum
  2. Questions – If you have any questions about this, you can contact our helpline.


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Photo of Head of Advice, Debbie Sadler
Debbie Sadler
Head of Advice

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