Criminal record checks have always been the downfall of those with turbulent, rebellious pasts – their convictions act as a barrier between them and their dreams; especially in terms of employment. But with new Supreme Court rules that police cautions and minor convictions should not be disclosed in criminal record checks, it looks like that is set to change. This announcement has caused controversy through England and Wales, with residents having mixed reactions to the news; some believe it is only fair to make those who have caused inconvenience or harm to others to pay for their mistakes, while others believe that those with minor convictions have probably already learned their lessons. What do you think?

Judges have begun stating in court that requirement to declare minor convictions, such as stealing, from years past is a breach of human rights legislations – crimes that are, judges say, ‘minor’, should not be exploited in order to punish people for their whole lives. The ruling is said to have come about after many were unable to gain jobs working with children or the vulnerable due to past mistakes, and now governments are looking into making this ruling permanent and legal. But where do we draw the line? The issue of the ruling is the question of how long criminals should be affected by their mistakes – especially minor ones. But, at the same time, isn’t it undermining the justice system by allowing people to get away with what they have done? It is feared that if Britain begins to relax these laws, it is only a matter of time before larger ones are relaxed too – and this is set to leave many very worried.

The first hints of the change came when a job applicant was forced to reveal cautions he received when 11 years old. And, while this seems unfair, it is what is right – if no crimes have been committed in years, employers are likely to put it down to disgruntled youth anyway, so why the secrecy? The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act of 1974 states that after a specific period of time (depending on the seriousness of the crime), a person’s convictions become automatically suspended and hence don’t need to be disclosed to employers; unless a specific job requires working with children or something similar. Unlike convictions, though, a caution is spent as soon as it is given – which means it is unlikely that employers will know the faults of those they are hiring, and it also means that people are a lot less likely to learn from their mistakes.

The new ruling, which took place earlier this year, aims to ensure that past convictions become part of a ‘protected’ private life for people, meaning that those having made mistakes cannot be punished forever. But why is it that they are now barely being punished at all?

Cautions to children are now being discarded after two years, and for adults, after six years, which seems a compromise between extreme punishment and no punishment at all, but it is unlikely the general public will be pleased with the results. Since the government have challenged Court of Appeal rulings, people are left feeling as if their experiences with the convicted mean nothing, and that the government are unsympathetic on the matter. This, paired with such a drastic change of the law, means that citizens are left unsure of their place, and their safety.

Lord Dyson, however, the Master of the Rolls, is said to feel very strongly on the subject and believes that it is something beneficial to a large majority of people. He was recorded saying late last year that the government should ‘pull its finger out’ because of his belief that people will change after learning from their mistakes and therefore shouldn’t suffer scrutiny for something done years and years ago. A draft judgement had been drawn up in December, but the possible ruling didn’t become common knowledge until the beginning of 2014, and took even longer to be passed due to mixed public reactions.

It is, then, a case of giving people second chances. Personally, I believe that the extent and frequency of a person’s criminal convictions should be considered individually – why should someone who admitted to GBH in recent years be treated the same as someone who stole some food from a supermarket as a child? Crimes come in all shapes and forms, and should be treated differently depending on the harm caused. What do you all think about the new law change?

 

Reference:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-27895472

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-21245308

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-21209734