Government announces date when planned changes to criminal record disclosure rules will take effect

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The government has today confirmed that planned changes to the rules on filtering will come into effect on Saturday 28 November. After years of campaigning for change, and after many months of holding the government to account on the implementation of the changes, the news was confirmed in a letter to Unlock from the Home Office yesterday.

The changes are simple; for jobs and voluntary roles that involve a standard or enhanced criminal record check issued by the Disclosure and Barring Service, childhood cautions will no longer be disclosed, and a rule that meant someone with more than one conviction had all their convictions disclosed, regardless of offence or length of time, has been abolished. For people who have been held back from employment and volunteering to help others because of mistakes they made years ago, the impact will be life changing.  

According to Home Office data, these changes will mean around 45,000 people a year will now have a clear standard or enhanced DBS check. One in five people who under the old rules would have had their criminal records disclosed, will now have a clear certificate. Clearly this shows that we still have a long way to go; we hope to see further reforms that allow more people to leave their past behind. 

These changes come as a result of a Supreme Court ruling in January 2019. Unlock intervened in that vital case because we know thousands of people are unnecessarily anchored to their past due to an arbitrary regime which forces the disclosure of old and irrelevant information. Until now, about 25,000 childhood cautions were disclosed in criminal record checks every year, most of which were for incidents that happened over five years ago. These changes will end the disclosure of childhood cautions.  

Christopher Stacey, Co-director of Unlock, said: 

It shouldn’t have needed individuals to bring legal challenges against the government, who fought the case all the way to the highest court in the land, but I am proud that Unlock played a crucial role over the last seven years, working with other charities, to make sure this moment came. The changes coming in on 28 November are a crucial first step towards achieving a fair system that takes a more balanced approach towards disclosing criminal records.  

However, we are still left with a criminal records system where many people with old and minor criminal records are shut out of jobs that they are qualified to do. We found that over a five year period, 380,000 checks contained childhood convictions, with 2,795 checks including convictions from children aged just ten. Many of these childhood convictions will continue to be disclosed despite these changes. Reviews by the Law Commission, Justice Select Committee, former Chair of the Youth Justice Board Charlie Taylor and David Lammy MP have all stressed the need to look at the wider disclosure system. The government’s plan for jobs should include a wider review of the criminal records disclosure system to ensure all law-abiding people with criminal records are able to move on into employment and contribute to our economic recovery.”  

Sam Grant, Policy and Campaigns Manager at Liberty, said:

“We all want a criminal justice system that treats us with humanity, and allows people to move on from mistakes. For too long a blunt and bureaucratic system has meant that if you made mistakes in your past, you were prevented from moving on.

“The Government had to be taken to the highest court, then took nearly two years to accept it had lost, but this injustice will finally be fixed. This case shows that through bravery and persistence a few individuals can use our legal system to stand up to power and obtain justice that will help countless people in similar situations.”

Jennifer Twite, Head of Strategic Litigation at Just for Kids Law, said:

“Every year, about 25,000 youth cautions are disclosed in criminal record checks, most of which are for incidents that happened over five years ago. This new legislation will help to ensure that no child who is given a caution ends up with a lifelong criminal record that robs them of the chance to get their lives back on track.”

It is important that both individuals with a criminal record and employers understand the impact of these changes. That’s why we’ll be publishing updated guidance for both individuals and employers. 

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