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Revise or Scrap the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974

Comment 21st July 2010

To scrap the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 or greatly revise it so that convictions do not prevent people from getting their lives back on track after a conviction and are not a bar on employment.

Why does this matter?

In recent years, Parliament under the leadership of Labour have gone completely crazy with legislation. In that period, many new offences have been created and the UK has now become one of the least tolerant societies in Europe. It is now much easier to end up with a criminal conviction than it was before Labour came to power. This is one significant factor for the current prison overcrowding problem.

It is much easier now for the police to prosecute someone over a genuine mistake, a misundertstanding or an accident. Many of those in prison are there purely because they acted whilst under the influence of a serious, yet often temporary, mental health problem. Are these people really criminals? Once convicted their convictions hang over them for years, making it virtually impossible in some cases to get a job. So if there's no hope, what else is there for these people to do but offend again to make ends meet. This time they really are criminals because the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act has turned them into one. And we're back to prison overcrowding again.

There is no reason for most employers to be told of a person's conviction or for them to use an unspent conviction as an excuse to bar employment. If there is genuine need, perhaps to protect certain groups, then the current legislation can still be used.

The length of time that some convictions can remain unspent for are highly draconian and unreasonable. 5 years unspent for a mere fine cannot be justified in a civilised society.

There are two perfect examples of how easy it has now become to end up with a conviction and, under current legislation, indefinite unspent convictions upon release. Both recent cases under the same legislation. One concerned that of a Scottish grandmother sentenced to 5 years in prison for owning a prohibited weapon she had held as a family heirloom for 29 years (the weapon dated from 1927). The second (a current case at time of writing) concerned a Gwynedd man who had bought an old revolver from an antique shop a few years ago. Despite the judge acknowledging that the weapon had been kept from view, that it was bought as an antique and that it would be difficult to obtain ammunition for it, he warned the man to expect a sentence of at least 12 months.

So, if these two individuals are working then they will have lost their jobs over an overzealous judiciary's interpretation of more defective legislation. And upon release the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act will make it much more difficult for them to find new jobs.

The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act is one Act of Parliament that doesn't do what it says on the tin.

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