Unlock responds to Justice Committee report into disclosure of youth criminal records
In response to today’s Justice Committee report into the disclosure of youth criminal records, Unlock, a leading independent charity for people with convictions, is calling on the government to drop its legal appeal and get on with reforming the criminal records regime.
Christopher Stacey, co-director of Unlock, who gave evidence to the Committee, said:
“Today’s report from the Justice Committee shows how the current approach to disclosing criminal records is failing children and young people who get caught up in the criminal justice system. Their lives are being dogged by a minor criminal record for decades, often for life, and it anchors people to their past.
“Thousands of people contact us every year because of problems they’re facing as a result of minor criminal records acquired in childhood and early adulthood. There is now overwhelming evidence that the government’s approach to criminal records disclosure needs to change. In the last year alone, there have been three significant reports that together set out the case for reforming the regime while maintaining public protection and safeguarding.
“The government is the criminal one here. The Court of Appeal has ruled that the current criminal records regime is blunt, disproportionate and not in accordance with the law. The government is dragging its heels by appealing to the Supreme Court and it is clearly not listening to the compelling evidence that shows the significant and unnecessary barriers to rehabilitation that the current regime is creating. The fact that someone has disclose two shoplifting offences from when they were 15, 40 years ago shows that the government needs to take immediate steps to respond to this problem. We’re calling on the government to drop its legal appeal and instead immediately focus its resources towards reforming the criminal records regime.
“A fairer and more flexible system for disclosing records on standard and enhanced criminal record checks would be one with expanded automatic filtering rules and a discretionary filtering process with a review mechanism so that individual circumstances can be considered before cautions and convictions are disclosed. This would enable those with old and minor criminal records to move on positively with their lives and to more easily gain employment.
“For jobs not involving basic criminal record checks, the Criminal Records Bill, a Private Members’ Bill from Unlock’s President, Lord Ramsbotham, reflects a broad consensus for the need to reduce the rehabilitation periods for both adult and child custodial sentences. We urge the government to support this Bill when it reaches its second reading in the House of Lords.
“It is common sense that, while certain offences need to be disclosed to employers, we should not be unnecessarily blighting the lives of people who are trying to get on in life by disclosing old, minor or irrelevant information that holds them back and stops them from reaching their potential.
“We are committed to continuing our work with government, the DBS, employers and other key stakeholders to drive forward these much needed reforms.”
Chair of the Standing Committee for Youth Justice, Ali Wigzell, said:
“The Committee’s findings should act as a rallying cry for reform: a system that creates barriers to children turning their lives around is destructive and not in the interests of society. It urgently needs to change.
“Young lives are being ruined by a ham-fisted and draconian criminal records regime that goes far beyond what is necessary to protect the public.
“This is the third expert body to urge reform of the childhood criminal records system in less than a year. The government should listen to its experts, stop wasting taxpayers’ money on fighting its unnecessary legal case – which has cost at least £160,000 so far – and take immediate action to reform the system instead.”
- Unlock is an independent, award-winning national charity that provides a voice and support for people with convictions who are facing stigma and obstacles because of their criminal record, often long after they have served their sentence.
- There are over 11 million people in the UK that have a criminal record.
- Unlock’s website is unlock.org.uk.
- High-resolution images for media use are available from Unlock’s Flickr account.
- We asked the Justice Committee to look at this issue.
- As part of the Justice Committee’s short inquiry into the disclosure of youth criminal records we took a small group of people with convictions to a private session to give evidence.
- We submitted written evidence to the inquiry.
- A copy of the Justice Committee’s report into the disclosure of youth criminal records is available online at parliament.uk/justicecttee (from Friday 27th October).
- Names of case studies below have been changed to protect identities.
- Over 240,000 standard and enhanced DBS checks every year disclose convictions or cautions. Since the filtering scheme was introduced in 2013, it’s helped some people with old and minor records to be free of the stigma and discrimination that so many face when they have something they have to disclose to an employer. However, the current system doesn’t go far enough. It operates with inflexible rules meaning that, for example, someone with more than one conviction on their record will have to disclose all of their convictions indefinitely, regardless of the nature or circumstances of the conviction or the length of time that has since passed. The system acts as an additional sentence that often runs for life. It desperately needs reform.
- In September 2015 Charlie Taylor was asked to lead a departmental review of the youth justice system for the Ministry of Justice. The Taylor Review, published in December 2016, recommended significant reform of the childhood criminal records system, including shortening rehabilitation periods and preventing many childhood cautions and convictions from being disclosed once they are “spent”. Mr Taylor’s report is available here, paragraphs 82-89 cover criminal records reform.
- In 2016 the then Prime Minister David Cameron asked David Lammy MP to conduct a review into bias against Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic minorities. In September 2017, he published the Lammy Review, which included recommendations to introduce a system of “sealing” criminal records, with a presumption “to look favourably on those who committed crimes either as children or young adults but can demonstrate that they have changed since their conviction”.
- In July 2016 the Law Commission were asked by the Home Office to review one specific aspect of the criminal records disclosure system, known as “filtering”. The Law Commission published its report in February 2017 and stated that “the present system raises significant concerns in relation to ECHR non-compliance and, what may be considered to be, the overly harsh outcomes stemming from a failure to incorporate either proportionality or relevance into disclosure decisions….This is an area of law in dire need of thorough and expert analysis. A mere technical fix is not sufficient to tackle such interwoven and large scale problems.”
- In May 2017, the Government lost the case R (P, G and W) v Secretary of State for the Home Department and others  EWCA Civ 321, in the Court of Appeal. The case was about the legality of the criminal records filtering system, particularly the “multiple conviction rule and the serious offence rule”, which the Court found to be incompatible with the human right to privacy and ruled that the current system was disproportionate. The Government has appealed the case to the Supreme Court and the hearing is listed to be heard in June 2018. A summary of the cases before the courts can be found here.
Case study – Anita
I am a 27 year old qualified English teacher. Since going into teaching, I have faced many hurdles because of the childhood mistakes I made. When I was 11 years old I set fire to some toilet roll in the school bathroom, there was a small amount of damage (my parents had to pay a fine of £200). I was given a reprimand for Arson and was told that it would come off my record after 5 years, or when I turned 19. Later, when I turned 15 years old I had a fight in the school playground with another pupil. In my defence, it was a result of bullying I had received for many years prior to this. The other girl’s mother called the police and I was, again, arrested, this time for ABH. The police convinced my parents to just accept the reprimand rather than take it to court and fight it, as it would come off in 5 years. Because of my chosen profession, I have had to declare these offences EVERY time I apply for a job in the UK. I was almost removed from my teaching course a year into my degree because they found out I had a criminal record when I had a DBS prior to my teaching placement. Needless to say, I got my degree and did extremely well, receiving excellent feedback for my teaching. When I realised that my records were not going to go away but would stay for life I decided I would leave the UK to teach for a few years, because I was so embarrassed by it.
Since returning to the UK, almost a year ago, I have had to deal with so much stigma. I have applied to many teaching positions, and have not heard anything back, despite attending a return to teaching course. I am now teaching adults on a part-time basis at a college and had to be vetted by a stranger on the reasons why I did the crimes. I was planning to get more experience within schools on the other days of the week by doing supply work. My supply agency has just informed me that many schools do not want someone with a criminal record working at their school.
This is something I feel is unfair. This piece of paper (the DBS) represents me. It’s the first thing my future employers see. Of course they judge me, I have TWO violent offences which brand me. Do I really need to leave the career I am so passionate about?
I have suffered with depression and anxiety issues as a result of my past, which I desperately want to forget. I am a good citizen now, and would not dream of doing the things I did as a child.
Case study – David
At 16 I dropped out of school and started hanging around the wrong people, shoplifting and being anti-social became the everyday thing. By the time I was 18 I ended up in court being sent to a young offender’s institute. When I had finished my sentence I struggled to find any work and found myself long term unemployed. By time I turned 24 I was in debt and got caught for handling stolen property where I ended up spending 3 months in prison.
The whole of my twenties I struggled to find employment, applying for hundreds of jobs only to be turned down because of my convictions. When I did find work it was often just short term or as and when. In my early thirties after my convictions became spent I started to find more opportunities and meeting people who were willing to give me a chance.
I am now in my forties, I have gained many different qualifications including two degrees, worked in positions of trust including working with ex-offenders and joined the military but despite all this I still find I am being judged when applying for certain job roles and even to this day have found myself discriminated against for having a criminal record.
Case study – Jane
Jane’s retaliation against a school bully had led to her receiving a police warning for actual bodily harm at the age of 15. As a result, her university place to study nursing was revoked. She appealed against the decision, which involved writing a disclosure statement explaining the circumstances of the warning to a risk assessment panel. After qualifying, she eventually obtained employment in nursing but has found career progression difficult because of her criminal record, which she is continually having to explain.
Case study – Kate
At the age of 16, Kate took the decision to move out of her family home and began renting a room from somebody she’d met through a friend. After she’d been there for three months and, without any warning, she returned home from college to find that her landlady had thrown the majority of her possessions out of the house and onto the street.
Realising that not all of her possessions had been returned, Kate went back to the house to pick them up. This resulted in an argument with her former landlady and Kate leaving empty handed after the landlady started to physically attack her. Several days later her parents received a phone call from the police asking Kate to report to the police station as soon as possible.
Kate said: “My father accompanied me but was not allowed in the interview room. We asked if I needed legal representation and was advised by the policeman that I would get home a lot quicker without it and that it wasn’t necessary. I gave the police a detailed and honest account of events but it was apparent that the woman whose room I had rented had not and I was subsequently arrested for common assault”.
In court Kate was found guilty of using violence to enter the premises and battery and had to pay compensation of £100.
That was over 10 years ago now. Since then, Kate has successfully completed a degree in social work at university. She has applied for several social work positions and been invited to interviews where she has been told that she was an outstanding candidate and been offered the job. However, as her convictions do not meet the eligibility for filtering (she has two) every job offer has been revoked as soon as she has disclosed her convictions.
Case study – James
I was convicted of ABH 37 years ago, 1979. It sounds really bad but it was in self-defence protecting a pregnant woman from assault. I was 18 years old.
The magistrate said it was commendable, however I took the law in to my own hands. It was not premeditated, I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time, like most people. I received a 1 year conditional discharge and a fine of £75 in May 1979.
I note on the filtering list that this offence has to stay on. Why? It was 37 years ago and I have never been in trouble since. I got educated so I could get well paid and look after my loved ones, I feel so bad about this being disclosed as I work in private education and recently I had to do a self-certification for the school. They knew about my conviction because it came up on the DBS prior to appointment. You may think I am being over sensitive but it really does affect me privately. I cannot prove it, but it has also held me back on occasions when applying for jobs.
I know on at least five job applications I have applied for and met every detail of the job specification, qualifications and experience to do the job and because I was honest i.e. declared my conviction, I never even got an interview!
I understand the police wish to keep it on their PNC and oddly enough I agree with that, but surely after 37 years I shouldn’t have to declare the offence on a DBS, I am completely rehabilitated, happy family man who made one error when I was 18 years old.
Case study – Hilary
When she was 19, Hilary was found guilty of possession of a prohibited weapon and prohibited ammunition after her then boyfriend forced her to hide them in her handbag as they travelled in a car together and were pulled over by the police. When the case went to court, she received a 2 year conditional discharge.
At the time of going to court, Hilary had been studying for a law degree but believed that as a result of her criminal record she would find it difficult to convince the Law Society that she would be a suitable candidate to enter the legal profession.
After eight years of moving from one mediocre job to another, Hilary took a short course in counselling skills and realised that she wanted to undertake further study in this field. However, she was worried that she could potentially be wasting time, effort and money if her conditional discharge meant that she would never be allowed to practise.
Another ten years passed before the filtering provisions were introduced in May 2013. Hilary believed that her conditional discharge would be eligible for filtering and contacted the Disclosure and Barring Service to find out whether she needed to make a request in writing. The DBS explained that although her offence was likely to be eligible for filtering, and although it resulted in a conditional discharge and not a conviction, this would be treated as multiple offences. They also confirmed that conditional discharges were treated as convictions for the purposes of filtering, so they wouldn’t be filtered.
Hilary said: “I continue to study but I do worry that I may just be wasting my time and will be left disappointed again. There are job opportunities that I just allow to pass me by without even trying because of my belief that I will be judged and discriminated against. I hate having to relive my conviction every time I attend a job interview. I really wish the filtering system could be reformed to allow people like me the chance to move on from their past and not be haunted by it every time the opportunity to pursue a dream job comes up”.