Inquiry concludes on disclosure of youth criminal records

Date: 30th October 2017
Category: Child justice system

The Justice Committee has concluded an inquiry into the system governing the disclosure of criminal records in relation to offences committed by people when under 18 years old finding that the current system falls short of the UK's obligations under the UNCRC.

In 2016, the Justice Committee launched a short inquiry to examine whether the statutory framework for disclosing youth criminal records strikes the right balance between protecting employers and the public, and the rehabilitation of people who commit offences as children.

The report considers whether the current statutory framework for disclosing records of offences committed by people when under 18 years old is appropriate and effective, and whether it strikes the right balance between protecting employers and the public, and rehabilitating people who commit offences as children. The Justice Committee also consider the impact of the current regime on people who offend as young adults.

Witnesses highlighted the adverse effect of childhood criminal records on individuals' access to employment, education, housing, insurance and visas for travel, and its discriminatory impact on particular groups including Black and Minority Ethnic children and those within the care system. The Justice Committee made direct approaches to organisations representing employers or others making use of criminal records checks for their views on the subject, but received little response from them. Overall, the inquiry evidence strongly supported the case for changing the criminal records disclosure system. For young adults, the majority of those who expressed a view thought that reform was also needed.

The Justice Committee conclude that the current system undermines the laudable principles of the youth justice system and may well fall well short of the UK's obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. They regret the Government's decision to pursue an appeal against the recent Court of Appeal decision on the compatibility of the filtering regime with human rights standards, rather than tackling the urgent need for reform. The Justice Committee also conclude that the coherence of Government policy on this area would be enhanced by consolidating responsibility into a single Department.

In addition, the report makes a number of recommendations for changing the statutory framework, which can be summarised as follows:

  • enactment of Lord Ramsbotham's Criminal Records Bill to reduce rehabilitation periods under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 (ROA);
  • an urgent review of the filtering regime, to consider removing the rule preventing the filtering of multiple convictions; introducing lists of nonfilterable offences customised for particular areas of employment, together with a threshold test for disclosure that is based on disposal/sentence; and reducing qualifying periods for the filtering of childhood convictions and cautions;
  • considering the feasibility of extending this new approach, possibly with modifications, to the disclosure of offences committed by young adults up to the age of 25;
  • allowing chief police officers additional discretion to withhold disclosure of non-filterable offences, taking into account the age and circumstances of the offence and the individual's age at the time with a rebuttable presumption against disclosure of offences committed during childhood;
  • giving individuals the right to apply for a review by the Independent Monitor of police decisions to disclose convictions or cautions.

The 'Ban the Box' campaign aims to delay the point at which job applicants have to disclose criminal convictions by ticking a box on application forms, allowing them to be judged primarily on merit. The Justice Committee recommend extending this approach to all public sector vacancies, with a view to making it a mandatory requirement for all employers. They further recommend urgent amendment to Government guidance on English housing authorities' allocation schemes to reflect the 2016 court decision that found a local authority to have breached the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 by taking into account an applicant's spent offences. In relation to insurance, The Justice Committee recommend that the Financial Conduct Authority consider undertaking a thematic review of providers wrongly declining cover or quoting higher premiums when customers disclose a criminal record.