Case of Lawrence – Court wrongly issued information about a spent conviction

Lawrence contacted us concerned that a crown court had provided information about his spent conviction without the proper authority.

Lawrence had a spent conviction from 12 years ago which could still be found on the internet. His local residents’ association had used the information they found online to request a Certificate of Conviction from the Crown Court where Lawrence had been convicted.

The Court should not have issued the certificate to a third party as it contained information about a spent conviction and the residents’ association had no legal right to access it. With Lawrence’s consent, we tested the process, approaching the same court for information. The request made clear that we had no standing in the case, that the request for information was not in relation to an official capacity, and that the conviction was believed to be spent. Despite this, we were duly provided with another certificate of conviction.

We followed the same process with several other courts. Not all of them provided information; some explained that it would not be possible or that a lawful reason would need to be established. However, three of the eight contacted – provided information about a spent conviction.

The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 ensures that people with convictions can – in most cases – move on positively with their lives after a period of living crime-free. Once the rehabilitation period has elapsed, a person has the legal right to be treated as if that conviction did not occur. Disclosure of information that an individual has the legal right to withhold material consequences for that individual and can affect their ability to find employment and access education.

The Crown Court Manual (CCM) sets out procedures for those working in Crown Courts, including dealing with requests for criminal records information. The manual refers to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 and the need to consider whether a conviction is spent before a certificate is issued.

The manual explains that it is an offence for any person to disclose any information about a spent conviction. No offence is committed if the disclosure is (or is reasonably believed to be) made to the rehabilitated person himself or to someone else at his request.

We contacted HMCTS to share our concerns. We pointed out that:

– Issuing certificates of conviction to third parties where the conviction is spent may be an offence, since there is no ‘official duty’ to do so.
– Disclosure of this information also breaches of data protection principle (f) Integrity and confidentiality, and affected individuals may have a claim against HMCTS under Articles 79 and 82 of the GDPR.

As a result, guidance on how to handle requests of this nature was re-issued to staff and HMCTS commissioned an urgent review of the guidance to avoid future misinterpretation. The Crown Court that issued the certificate wrote to Lawrence to apologise and wrote to the residents’ association to advise them to delete the information as it had been issued in error. Lawrence is now exploring whether he can make a claim under the GDPR.

Lessons

The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 ensures that people with convictions are able to move on with their lives. Any organisation handling criminal record information should ensure they follow procedures when sharing this information, and particular care should be taken with spent convictions. Individuals’ data is protected by data protection law and the GDPR entitles individuals to make a claim against an organisation that fails to uphold their rights.

Links

Find out when a conviction is spent

Your rights under the GDPR

 

Names and details have been changed to protect the identity of those involved.

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