The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act hit the Statute books as long ago as 1974, and briefly as it turned out, it heralded a new dawn of sorts. The Act was devised to ‘pardon’ criminals who had been convicted of relatively minor offences many years ago so that they could start afresh with a clean sheet.
Unfortunately, there were so many caveats built into the system that in many cases, the Act was meaningless. These caveats included the seriousness of the crime and therefore the length of time during which the conviction remained ‘unspent’, and the nature of the offence itself and the extent to which it might impact on future employment. This is relevant when the ‘spent’ criminal is applying for employment in sensitive areas such as working with children or vunerable adults.
For the most part, judges in the criminal courts ignored the Act on the ground that once a criminal always a criminal, and the offender’s rehabilitation was irrrelevant. Those were what some called ‘the good old days’.
The Supreme Court has revisited the Act, with campaigners baying at the door. It seems to go with the territory, there seems to be a campaign for almost everything, fronted by spokespersons of dubious provenance who bob to the surface from time to time and shout the odds like so many fishwives.
Two were in evidence to assist the Supreme Court; Unlock, a charity for people with convictions, and Just for Kids Law, the same but with a different nomenclature. Whether they assisted the court or not is a matter of speculation.
Lord Sumption, a judge who needs no assistance, gave the lead judgment, and without going into the minutiae, ruled that the way some criminal records are disclosed is disproportionate and infringes human rights. [If in doubt, wave the ‘human rights’ flag.]
Lord Sumption was considering individual cases, and therefore not painting with a broad brush, and for all purposes, the Act remains unchanged. What it means, as did the Act back in 1974, is that each case must be decided on its own particular facts, otherwise known as a cop out. The argument goes on, and it will be for individual judges to balance the interests of society with those of the miscreant, whose interests wouldn’t have to be balanced if he (she) hadn’t committed the crime in the first place.
The final word goes to the Chief Executive of JfKL, who bleated: “The government should now conduct a wide-ranging review of the entire criminal records disclosure regime for children and young people.”
Yeah, and if pigs could fly!