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Criminal Records: A Brief Overview

What is a Criminal Record

A criminal record is a list of crimes for which an individual has been previously convicted. If you have been offered a Police Caution as an alternative to prosecution and you accepted then this would count as a criminal conviction. This is a reason why, unless a conviction is a certainty, you should not agree to accept a caution.

What Constitutes a Criminal Record

Technically any conviction in a court of a criminal offence is a criminal record. In practice, however, many motoring offences are not deemed to be crimes for criminal record purposes. Motoring offences dealt with by way of a fixed penalty notice are not criminal convictions. Offences that are prosecuted by Local Authorities are also sometimes criminal offences, though they are unlikely to be on the PNC (Police National Computer).

CRB Standard and Enhanced Disclosures

CRB (Criminal Records Bureau) Standard and Enhanced disclosures contain information about convictions, cautions, reprimands, and warnings retained on the PNC and the equivalent systems in Scotland and Northern Ireland. For the purposes of CRB disclosures a caution, reprimand, or warning that has been entered into the PNC will constitute a criminal record.

The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act (ROA) does not apply to certain jobs such as those involving access to children, vulnerable adults, and other sensitive positions. The full list of exceptions is contained in the Exceptions Order of the Act.

The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act (ROA) 1974

The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act (ROA) 1974 is aimed at helping people who have lived on the right side of the law since being convicted of a criminal offence providing they have not convicted again during a specified period of time. This period of time is called the rehabilitation period.

The Act is for anyone who has been convicted of a criminal offence, and received a sentence of not more than 2.5 years providing he or she is not convicted again during the ‘rehabilitation period’. The specified period of time varies depending on the sentence given for the original offence and runs from the date of the conviction. If the person does not re-offend during this rehabilitation period, they become a ‘rehabilitated person’, and their conviction becomes ‘spent’.

People with multiple convictions, especially serious conviction may not benefit from the Act unless the convictions are very old.

Spent and Unspent Convictions

Spent Convictions

A ‘spent’ conviction is one which the person concerned does not have to reveal or admit its existence in most circumstances. This means that once their conviction is spent, they do not have to disclose it when filling in application forms, applying for insurance, jobs, or when asked. An employer cannot refuse to employ someone because he or she has a spent conviction. They are also not permitted to dismiss them. There are laws that aim to prevent to discrimination against people with a criminal record.

However, there are some exceptions relating to employment and these are listed in the Exceptions Order to the ROA. Some convictions are never ‘spent’.

Unspent Convictions

If a person has been convicted of an offence for which a sentence of more that 2.5 years was imposed (regardless of how much time they actually spent in prison) their conviction can never be spent. As it remains an unspent conviction, this person must always disclose their conviction when asked about their criminal record.

Then, of course there is the person who is still within their rehabilitation period after being sentenced for less than 2.5 years.

Certain convictions are deemed “spent” under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 after the following periods of time (known as the “rehabilitation period” – the period is halved where the offender was under 18 at the point they were convicted)

When considering the above, the following also needs to be taken into account:-

A new conviction will have no bearing upon the rehabilitation period of an unspent conviction unless it is a more serious offence, in which case the unspent conviction will only become spent once the new conviction is spent if later than it otherwise would have become spent.

Assessing the relevance of criminal records

Determining a person’s suitability for a position (both paid and unpaid) that has a criminal record will vary, depending on the nature of the post and the detail of circumstances of the conviction. Unfortunately this is not an exact science. Assessing an individual’s skills, experiences, and conviction circumstances should be weighed against the risk assessment criteria for the post.

It is recommended that an employer should consider the following when deciding on the relevance of offences to particular posts :

The answers to these questions should help an employer to determine the relevance of any convictions to specific posts. For example, paedophile or child pornography offences will most certainly disqualify a person from working with children; some violent offences would be relevant to positions involving unsupervised contact with the general public; fraud should be considered in relation to financial positions; and theft should be considered in positions such as warehouse positions.

The Future

Towards a European Criminal Record?

The European Commission has adopted a proposal for a Council Decision on the establishment of the European Criminal Records Information System (ECRIS).

In June 2007, Council came to an agreement on the Framework Decision on organisation and contents of the exchange of information extracted from criminal records between Member states. Its main aim is to ensure that the Member State of nationality of a convicted EU citizen is able to provide an accurate and comprehensive response to requests for information on previous criminal convictions concerning its nationals. For that purpose it lays down the basis for a computerised conviction-information exchange system, which is being developed further by the proposal adopted today.

In June 2006, Germany, France, Spain, Belgium, the Czech Republic and Luxembourg presented their common project on networking of national criminal registers providing for a secure electronic connection of their systems of national criminal records.

In future criminal records of any EU Citizen will likely be accessible by all EU Member States.

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