Our outdated criminal records regime is holding hundreds of thousands of people back from participating fully in society. Even a minor criminal history can produce lifelong barriers to employment, volunteering, housing and even travelling abroad, many years after people have moved on from their past. The system needs to change.

The #FairChecks movement is calling for the government to launch a major review of the legislation on the disclosure of criminal records to reduce the length of time a record is revealed. We are looking for reform in the following areas:

  1. Reducing the length of time a person’s conviction is revealed on basic checks.
  2. Making a more proportionate and flexible system to what is revealed on standard and enhanced checks that protects the public without unduly harming people’s opportunity to get on in life.
  3. A distinct approach to records acquired in childhood and a more nuanced approach to those acquired in early adulthood.
  4. The introduction of review mechanisms so that no one has to face a lifetime being held back by their past without the prospect of review at some point.

We want a disclosure system that is fair and gives people a genuine chance of moving on and contributing fully to society.

We are calling for the government to reform the disclosure of criminal records – so minor and very old crimes do not appear on on standard and enhanced criminal records checks and so that those who have turned their lives around are not forced to reveal their convictions long after they have served their sentence.

We are calling on the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice to launch to a major review of the legislation on the disclosure of criminal records. Given the importance of understanding the experiences of those with criminal records (and other points of view) we believe the review should be an open policy making process as recommended by the Cabinet Office. This means engaging with a broad range of experts and people with experience (more information about open policy making is on the government’s website).

Christopher Stacey, co-director of Unlock, said:

“People who have made mistakes in the past find themselves locked out of jobs and opportunities, unable to fully contribute to society or to achieve their potential because of a criminal record that is effectively a life sentence. Helping people to secure employment, support their families and contribute to the economy is one of the best ways of making communities safer. Yet the law as it stands means people are forced to reveal criminal records to employers and others for many years – sometimes for the rest of their lives.

“Unlock is delighted to be partnering with Transform Justice to launch the #FairChecks movement to help push for a major review of the legislation on the disclosure of criminal records. Everyone should have the opportunity to unleash their potential and make a positive contribution to society. Everyone should have the opportunity of a fresh start. The #FairChecks site is a crucial way for people to show their MP that they support reform of the criminal record disclosure system.”

 

Penelope Gibbs, director of Transform Justice, said:

“People want to move on from their past but our criminal records disclosure system is a barrier. Transform Justice is pleased to be partnering with Unlock to launch a movement for reform of the system. We know that everybody who has been in trouble with the law should have the opportunity of a fresh start”

How can you help create the change?

Use the #FairChecks site to get the support of your local MP.
Because it is the government that has to make changes to the law, we need the support of MPs. You can help by getting the support of your local MP. The first step is to use the #FairChecks website to send them a letter letting them know that a fair criminal records system is important to you.

This is just the start of the journey towards a fairer criminal records system.
We’re creating a movement so that we can go further together. Tick the box when you submit your letter to stay updated by email about the #FairChecks movement and how you can support the next stage.

Encourage your friends and family to support it.
You can also share your submission with friends and family and encourage them to write to their own MPs.

Share it on social media.
Please tweet a link to the site using the hashtag #FairChecks, share it on Facebook and LinkedIn and highlight it with your networks, directing people to the website www.fairchecks.org.uk.

Support it as an organisation.
Alongside encouraging individuals to use #FairChecks to write to their MP, we are keen for organisations to be part of this too. We want to encourage organisations to show their public support for #FairChecks through Twitter, other social media and blogs, and please do get in touch with us if your organisation is interested in showing its support in other ways.

More information

#FairChecks is part of our policy work on the DBS filtering system and is linked to two of our priorities for government.

Follow the campaign on Twitter using the hashtag #FairChecks

Read this 2-page briefing about #FairChecks. 

If you have any questions about #FairChecks, there are some FAQ’s at the bottom of the #FairChecks site, or you can email fairchecks@unlock.org.uk

 

Government response

Hundreds of people have already written to their MPs through the #FairChecks site. The government has sent its initial response to many MP’s that have written to the government on behalf of their constituents. As you can read below, we believe the government’s response doesn’t go anywhere near far enough.

Thank you for your letter of 27 January to the Home Secretary on behalf of a number of your constituents regarding the criminal records disclosure regime and your constituent’s call for a broad review of the disclosure of criminal records. I am replying as the Minister for Safeguarding with responsibility for the Government’s policy on criminal records disclosure. As disclosure is a devolved matter, my response addresses the regime as it applies in England and Wales.

The Government takes the safeguarding of children and vulnerable groups very seriously. The disclosure regime protects children and vulnerable adults through the disclosure of relevant criminal records by helping employers to make informed recruitment decisions in roles working with those groups. The Supreme Court has considered aspects of the disclosure regime with regards to spent convictions.

Once a conviction or caution is considered to be spent, it is usually not necessary for an individual to declare it to prospective employers when applying for a job, and it would not be disclosed on a basic criminal record certificate. However, where an individual is seeking to work in roles that require a high level of public trust or involve special risks and sensitivities, such as working closely with children or vulnerable adults, an employer may request that they obtain either a standard or enhanced criminal record certificate from the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS). These certificates include details of spent and unspent cautions and convictions recorded on the Police National Computer, subject to statutory disclosure rules. The roles and activities that are eligible for standard and enhanced criminal record checks are set out in legislation.

The Supreme Court considered aspects of the disclosure regime relating to the disclosure of spent convictions, including several of the circumstances set out in your letter. Its judgement in the case of P and others broadly upheld the existing framework but found two aspects of the disclosure regime to be incompatible with the right to a private life under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. These were the requirements for disclosure: 1) of reprimands and warnings issued to people below the age of 18; and 2) where an individual has more than on spent conviction, irrespective of offence type or time passed – known as the ‘multiple conviction rule’.

It is important to note there are other disclosure rules that are not affected by the Supreme Court judgement. These other rules ensure, for example, that a conviction relating to a specified serious offence (typically a violent or sexual offence) will be disclosed and that a conviction which has resulted in a custodial sentence will be disclosed. Details of the disclosure rules, and those offences which will always be disclosed, are available from DBS at: https://www.government/collections/dbsfiltering-guidance.

The Government is considering the details of this judgement carefully and the action necessary to address the judgement while ensuring employers continue to be supported in taking informed decisions to protect children and vulnerable adults. Any changes in the legislation would be subject to the usual cross-Government agreement and Parliamentary processes.

Whilst safeguarding vulnerable groups remain paramount, this Government also believes firmly in giving ex-offenders who have paid their debt to society the chance to prove they can work hard and become responsible members of our communities. We recognise the crucial role employment can play in the rehabilitation of ex-offenders, helping them desist from offending and live crime-free lives, and are committed to improving access to employment for those ex-offenders who have turned their lives around.

Employers should recruit fairly and not discriminate against applicants on the basis of disclosures on criminal record certificates. Employers should consider any criminal record alongside the applicant’s skills, qualifications and abilities, as well as other materials which reflect the applicant’s conduct such as references. Employers should also discuss the content of certificates with applicants, considering factors such as the person’s age at the time of the offence, how long ago the offence took place, and the relevance of the offence to the application or post in question.

The Government has led by example in this area. In 2016, we introduced Ban the Box across the Civil Service and we are currently rolling out the successful Going Forward into Employment (GFIE) pilot, which matches prison leavers with Civil Service roles on release, nationwide.

I hope this explains the Government’s current position on the disclosure regime.

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