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Criminal record checks relaxed following court ruling

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On the 18th June 2014, the Supreme Court passed a judgment of significant importance for those who have a criminal record and seek employment where criminal record checks are required. The Court, which hears cases of the greatest public or constitutional importance in the UK, declared that police cautions (including reprimands, warnings and cautions) and minor convictions should no longer have to be disclosed in criminal record checks.

The relevant Act governing the disclosure of previous convictions is the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974. It dictates that ‘spent’ convictions, where the legal rehabilitation period has lapsed, need not be disclosed for job applications or criminal record checks. The exceptions to this are provided in the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 (Exceptions) Order 1975 and extend to applicants of jobs dealing with, for example, young or vulnerable individuals.

By their very nature, warnings, reprimands and cautions are diversions from court given in circumstances where one’s participation in the judicial process would not be in the public interest. Appellants T and JB brought the case to the Court of Appeal on the basis that their respective (what could only be politely described as) ‘uninteresting’ criminal action became very ‘interesting’ only when they undertook criminal record checks. This proved detrimental when each applied for roles provided for in the 1975 Order where even ‘spent’ convictions were to be mandatorily disclosed.

The Court ruled that the requirement to disclose reprimands, warnings and cautions contravened T and JB’s right to a private life - Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights, which was approved in to UK law by virtue of the Human Rights Act 1998. The Court was of the opinion that the interference into one’s private life made by the 1974 Act as it presently reads was not democratically justifiable. Quite rightly, Lord Reed in his judgment points to a lack of a rationale between holding a matured adult accountable for his dishonest 11 year old self (in the case of T). The Home Secretary will now be required to legislate to show greater levels of “common sense” and proportionality when requiring an individual to disclose.

As of June 18th the right to a private life under Article 8 has been further safeguarded. This judgment will directly serve to assist those who often have insignificant incidences of criminality, which are aged and regrettable, but held to them for life.​