The big idea
The whole matter of spent convictions, their retention on CRB and police files and the obligation for offenders to disclose them needs urgent review. Offences should be categorised along with a table of time limits, beyond which those offences are automatically removed from the records.
In particular, concern should be shown about indictments against young people, where the need to rehabilitate carries even greater import.
Sensible rehabilitation must mean sensible rehabilitation … and the law must be seen as having been enacted in good faith.
Why does this matter?
Spent convictions and the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act.
Like all law, the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 has flaws, but none could be so iniquitous as that section dealing with spent convictions. As I understand it, the Act has not been reviewed since its inception despite …
Major changes in the policies of successive governments regarding sentencing, the grounds for sentencing and its severity.
Changing social (and official) attitudes to the nature of punishment for some crimes, in particular where it relates to young offenders.
The fact that by reason of cost and availability of prison places, there are many reports of pressure being exerted on the Judiciary to moderate sentencing and to avoid it altogether where possible. This has lead to an artificial ‘value’ in modern sentences and, as a consequence, an unreasonable inconsistency when compared to sentencing in past years.
By example. A three year approved school sentence in the 1950s was the norm for relatively minor offences (certainly compared with today) and was often used as a means of removing vulnerable young people from bad home backgrounds; often a result of the pressures of WW2. However; because it was a 3 year sentence it cannot be spent. Period. And why? Because the rules say sentences in excess of 30 months cannot be spent.
So in a supposed fair society what this means is that indictments for minor offences based on an outdated philosophy or approach of 60 years ago can carry the same stigma as wholesale violence and major drug offences would warrant today. As a result, people in their early 70s who may have an unblemished record of 55+ years since a minor offence continue to carry that stigma and under current law will do so for life.
I believe that because of the above (and reasons provided in other parts of ‘Freedom’ discussions) there may well be grounds to challenge the retention of many records held by the police and / or the CRB, in the European courts. It would however, be far better and cheaper if government were to anticipate people may take this approach and take steps to redefine the way spent convictions, in particular, those in approved schools and institutions, are regarded.
The problem is that previous governments have not viewed the term ‘Spent Convictions’ in the true spirit the words imply. Rehabilitation is not just a matter of reintegration into society if the original offence can be regurgitated time and again to meet the needs of officialdom or potential employers.
Sensible rehabilitation should (eventually) mean convictions being truly spent after a suitable time and by truly spent I mean, complete REMOVAL from the records of both the police and the CRB.
Clearly this will need to reflect the seriousness of crime like murder, rape, offences against children etc which should never, in my opinion, be removed, but categorising other offences in a sensible way could demonstrate an element of official forgiveness and at the same time provide a platform of encouragement for the offender not to reoffend.