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Regime for disclosing youth criminal records needs urgent change

27 October 2017

The Justice Committee publishes report on disclosure of youth criminal records.

The current system for disclosure of youth criminal records undermines the principles of the youth justice system, says the Justice Committee in a new report published today.

The report also argues that the system may well fall short of the UK's obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Witnesses highlighted the adverse effect of childhood criminal records on individuals' access to employment, education, housing, insurance, visas for travel, and its discriminatory impact on BAME children, those within the care system and others.

Problems caused by the disclosure regime potentially affect large numbers of people.

In 2014-15, 26% of standard DBS checks and 23% of enhanced checks related to subjects who were under 18 at the time of a conviction.

Overall the evidence strongly supported the case for changing the criminal records disclosure system. The majority of those who expressed a view thought that reform was also needed in respect of records of crimes committed by young adults (18–25 year olds).

Chair's comments

"The Government confirmed to us that its primary objective in youth justice is to stop people being drawn into crime, with consequent blighting of their life chances, as well as harm being caused to victims and communities.

But these laudable aims are systematically undermined by the current disclosure regime; mistakes made as a teenager can follow someone around for decades and create a barrier to rehabilitation, as well as profound problems with access to employment and education."

 Committee recommendations

  • Lord Ramsbotham's Criminal Records Bill to reduce rehabilitation periods under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 should be enacted
  • An urgent review of the filtering regime, to consider removing the rule preventing the filtering of multiple convictions; introducing lists of non-filterable offences customised for particular areas of employment, together with a threshold rest for disclosure 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
  • Allow chief police officers additional discretion to withhold disclosure, taking into account age and the circumstances of the offences, 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 of cautions.

Committee Chair Bob Neill said:

"According to the Children's Commissioner for England there is no evidence to suggest that having committed more than one offence is predictive of a greater risk of continued offending in adulthood; on the contrary there is considerable evidence that most children stop offending as they mature. Yet we still have a system which works to prevent children from moving on from their past and creates a barrier to rehabilitation.

"We regret the Government's decision to pursue an appeal against the recent Court of Appeal decision on the compatibility of the filtering system with human rights standards, rather than tackling the urgent need for reform."

Coherence of Government policy

The Committee also concluded that the coherence of Government policy on this area would be enhanced by consolidating responsibility for criminal records into a single Department.

Correction: In paragraph 50, page 20, “Outcome Code 16” should have read “Outcome Code 21”.

Further information

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