Criminal Records – Should they haunt you for life?

On November 8th, last year (2013) the Belfast Telegraph ran an article from Bob Ashford on ‘Wipe the slate clean for minors’.

Does one mistake haunt you for life!

He ruminating on how one event, when he was 13, has prevented him from applying for the role of Police and Crime Commissioner for Avon and Somerset.  After 40 years working as a social worker, and becoming director of strategy at the Youth Justice Board, his one misdemeanor which resulted in a fine in 1966, has prevented him from taking up a role he is obviously eminently qualified for.

This article then led me to wonder what does a criminal record prevent you from doing?  In most formal circumstances, offenders are legally obliged to declare a conviction when asked, until it becomes “spent”: currently this takes seven years for sentences of up to six months and a decade for sentences of up to 2.5 years. Sentences longer than that are never spent. This may entail disclosing a conviction to employers, insurers, landlords, financial services providers, education institutions, visa and adoption agencies and others.

On top of this, employers can request a standard criminal record check—where convictions show up for life—for certain jobs within the health, financial, security and legal sectors. This also includes cautions, which are given without trial when the offender accepts responsibility for a minor offence such as writing graffiti. Jobs involving working with children or vulnerable adults require an enhanced criminal record check, which includes all convictions, cautions and any other information held by police forces that is considered “relevant,” including, potentially, crimes of which a person has been a victim and occasions when officers have visited an individual’s address.

In some cases, a criminal record is an absolute bar to an application. Those convicted of certain sexual offences are blocked completely from adopting, and some violent or sexual offenders are prevented from working with children and vulnerable adults—the government’s Disclosure and Barring Service operates a list of people banned from these positions. In other professions, regulatory bodies have their own rules, which means that anyone who has received a custodial or suspended sentence can generally not become a doctor, lawyer or accountant, among other things.

Even in unregulated professions finding work can be difficult with a conviction. Employers and others are legally entitled to discriminate against an applicant on the grounds of an unspent conviction, regardless of its relevance to the position.

The Poverty Site has given the following statistics:


  • 74,000 children aged 10 to 17 were found guilty of, or cautioned for, indictable offences in 2010.  Numbers have fallen sharply in each year since 2007, when the number was 126,000.  The net result is that the number in 2010 is lower than at any time since the data first became available in the mid-1990s.
  • Both the fall in the latest three years and the rises in the years immediately before that are largely accounted for by changes in the number of cautions, with the numbers found guilty having remained stable throughout.
  • Almost half of the 74,000 offences were committed by children aged 15 or under.
  • The peak rate for offending is at ages 17 to 20, with rates being much lower from age 21 onwards and below the age of 16.
  • Nearly half of all the offences committed in 2010 by children involved theft, with drug offences and violence against the person being the other two big groups.
  • Four times as many boys are found guilty of, or cautioned for, indictable offences as girls.  Among girls, theft is by far the most likely crime to be committed, accounting for two-thirds of all crimes committed by girls.  By contrast, although still the largest single category, theft accounts for just a third of the crimes committed is estimated that by boys.

KIds do wrong things, and often do not think of the consequences for future life.  That in itself is bad enough, but when a crime which is not a crime, i.e. you are gay and experiment about being gay,  has led to a criminal record why should it hang over you for the rest of your life?

In May 2012 The Protection of Freedoms Act received Royal Assent which will enable men to wipe the records of thousands of convictions for consensual gay sex under now-repealed laws,  It estimated that 16000 convictions could now be eligible for removal from police records.

Men may now apply to the Secretary of State to disregard convictions, however essentially in large part this Act does not seem to apply in Northern Ireland.  NIGRA has written to Department of Justice for clarification and will advise of their reply as soon as possible.

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