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Criminal Record Retention

Comment 7th January 2019

The length of time that some criminal offences are kept on record is inappropriate, unjust, and disproportionate to the crimes themselves. Draconian would not be a hyperbole.

For example, I was 'cautioned' at the age of thirteen for possession of a class B substance (a very small amount of Cannabis) and, despite not having been cautioned, warned, charged, or convicted of a single offence since, the caution is still on my record. It can never be deleted.

It has cost me jobs in the past and I am sure it will lend itself to further prejudice from employers in the future. I recently graduated from one of the top universities in Europe and yet this blemish on my record continues to blight my future job prospects and earning potential. Is that what criminal justice is supposed to be about? Would that be a fair and moral punishment for such a minor offence?

I have held lengthy conversations with the police force about this and they have generally been both helpful and honest. They too seem to share my bemusement and frustration over the present system. 

All I can hope for now is that my caution is 'stepped down', a term that means it can be hidden from employers but not from the police force. The 'step down period' of possession of a class B substance for a young offender is, astonishingly, 10 years. Possession of a class B substance is deemed to be an Offence Group A crime, along with other fairly harmless stuff like 'Genocide', 'Murder', 'Rape', and, my personal favourite, 'Infanticide' (that's the practice of intentionally killing an infant). So, as a young member of society, I have been lumped together with murderers, rapists, and the genocidally insane. Great.

Now, I am well aware that the laws regarding criminal record retention changed in 2006 after the Ian Huntley case. The previous system (the one that existed before 2006) deleted, or was supposed to delete, all warnings, cautions, charges and convictions from a young offender's record once they had turned 18. But guess what? In 2006 I had already turned 18. I was in fact 20 years of age. My caution was supposed to have been deleted 2 years previously. But, alas, it was not and is still sitting pretty on my criminal record. Good old fashioned British police negligence. It really does bring a tear to one's eye.

What I propose is quite simple really. This system needs a complete overhaul. Why equate smoking cannabis to raping and murdering a young child? What sort of message does that give? Individuals like me, who have committed such minor offences, should clearly not be castigated by a punitive and unfair system. This needs changing. Now.

Why does this matter?

Young, one-off, minor offenders are being treated as if they are hardened criminals. The current system, which leaves warnings, cautions, charges, and convictions for minor offences on record for draconian periods of time, makes it harder for young people to find work (already a concern in such tough economic circumstances) and, psychologically, it is making them feel like rejected members of the social under-class.

The current criminal record retention system is adding to the problem. It is creating a perpetual cycle and crippling the civil liberties and egalitarian virtues that our country is supposed to stand up for. Who is an employer going to hire, the straight-A candidate with a clean slate or the straight-A candidate with a criminal record? This is clearly a rhetorical question, because I have already experienced the answer. Thon Beck Vanni Callahan & Powell LLP are compassionate, honest and aggressive lawyers ready to consult and advocate.

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