Campaigners have welcomed a “landmark” ruling by the UK’s highest court which they say will benefit “many thousands” of people whose old and minor criminal offences have to be disclosed when applying for certain jobs.
They called on the Government to carry out a review of the criminal records disclosure scheme in the light of the Supreme Court’s decision on Wednesday that it was “disproportionate” in two respects.
The two areas are the requirement that all previous convictions should be disclosed, however minor, where the person has more than one conviction, and in the case of warnings and reprimands issued to young offenders.
The Supreme Court ruling centres on human rights litigation brought by individuals who say their lives are being unfairly haunted by minor offences committed many years ago.
Christopher Stacey, co-director of Unlock, a charity for people with convictions, which intervened in the case, said: “This is an important ruling which stands to affect many thousands of people with old and minor criminal records who have been unnecessarily anchored to their past.
“Today is a crucial step towards achieving a fair and proportionate filtering system that takes a more calibrated and targeted approach towards disclosing criminal records.”
He added: “We strongly urge the Government to take prompt and considered action on the filtering system, as well as committing to carrying out a fundamental review of the wider criminal records disclosure regime.”
Enver Solomon, chief executive of Just for Kids Law, said the ruling will “benefit thousands of children issued with cautions each year, a shockingly disproportionate number of whom are from black and minority ethnic backgrounds”.
He said: “There is now an overwhelming view shared by the higher courts and MPs that the Government should act immediately to ensure no child who is given a caution ends up with a criminal record that stigmatises them for life.
“The Government should also now conduct a wide-ranging review of the entire criminal records disclosure regime for children and young people.”
Bob Neill, chairman of the Commons Justice Committee, said it had recommended a range of reforms, adding: “Following today’s judgment, we look forward to hearing about the Government’s proposals for ensuring all aspects of the regime are proportionate.”
Lord Sumption, explaining the background to the Supreme Court’s ruling, said it involved four individuals who had all been convicted or received cautions or reprimands in respect of “comparatively minor offending”.
He said: “The disclosure of their criminal records to potential employers has made it more difficult for them to obtain jobs, or may make it more difficult in the future.”
In each case, the relevant convictions and cautions were “spent” under legislation designed to enable ex-offenders to put their past behind them.
They had to be disclosed only if they applied for employment involving contact with children or vulnerable adults, he said.
All four challenged the statutory rules under which the disclosure of their records was required as being incompatible with Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights – the right to respect for private and family life.
In Wednesday’s judgment, the court dismissed appeals by the Home and Justice Secretaries against 2017 Court of Appeal rulings in favour of two individuals, but allowed an appeal in relation to a third person.
They also rejected an appeal by the Department of Justice for Northern Ireland in a fourth case.
A Government spokesman said: “We have noted the Supreme Court judgment and will consider the ruling carefully before responding.”