In Brief

Should you have to disclose a minor criminal record?

Supreme Court rules criminal records check system ‘disproportionate’

People convicted of minor offences might not have to disclose them in future, after the Supreme Court passed a landmark ruling on the criminal records check system.

Judges ruled that three people, who claimed their lives were blighted by past minor convictions, had their human rights violated by the way criminal records are disclosed.

The charity Unlock said the ruling stands to affect thousands of people with old and minor criminal records.

The government “will have to consider reform of the system” after it lost its appeal, said BBC legal affairs correspondent Clive Coleman.

Under the current system, known as the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS), past offences, however minor, must be disclosed for the rest of a person's life when applying for certain jobs, such as when working with children, if they have more than one conviction.

Warnings and reprimands issued to young offenders, offences where the conviction or caution is serious, and offences resulting in a custodial sentence must also be disclosed.

Sky News notes “the person’s circumstances at the time of the offence is not taken into consideration”.

“Critics have condemned the system as being too harsh, preventing people with minor past convictions from applying for jobs and moving on with their lives,” says The Guardian.

Christopher Stacey, co-director of Unlock, says criminal checks leave many people “unnecessarily anchored to their past”.

Speaking to the BBC, he claimed that in the past five years alone more than a million youth criminal records were disclosed on standard or enhanced DBS checks that related to offences from more than 30 years ago.

The Supreme Court described existing criminal record rules as “disproportionate” on two counts: the way they required disclosure for multiple convictions, even if they were minor, and the way they failed to distinguish between convictions and warnings or reprimands issued to juveniles.

One of the people who brought the case, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was convicted in 1999 after shoplifting a 99p book while suffering from undiagnosed schizophrenia and then failing to answer bail.

In the intervening 20 years she has committed no crimes and has aimed to work as a teaching assistant “but current rules mean she has to reveal her two convictions when applying - forcing her to reveal details of her medical history”, says Sky News.

Dr Beth Weaver, a senior lecturer at Strathclyde University, told STV News: “Around 38% of men and 9% of women in Scotland have at least one criminal conviction, so this issue affects a large number of people.”

Around 75% of employers admit to rejecting applications that refer to any kind of conviction.

Yet a study by Virgin Trains and the charity Business in the Community published this month warned some candidates with no record may pose a greater risk of offending.

Jobseekers are also put off applying for work if they have to declare any convictions upfront, said the report, which called on companies to find more supportive ways to discuss potential recruits‘ criminal backgrounds.

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