Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974
|Long title||An Act to rehabilitate offenders who have not been reconvicted of any serious offence for periods of years, to penalise the unauthorised disclosure of their previous convictions, to amend the law of defamation, and for purposes connected therewith.|
|Chapter||1974 c. 53|
|Introduced by||Kenneth Marks|
|Territorial extent||United Kingdom|
|Royal Assent||31 July 1974|
|Status: Current legislation|
|Text of statute as originally enacted|
The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 (c.53) of the UK Parliament enables some criminal convictions to be ignored after a rehabilitation period. Its purpose is that people do not have a lifelong blot on their records because of a relatively minor offence in their past. The rehabilitation period is automatically determined by the sentence, and starts from the date of the conviction. After this period, if there has been no further conviction the conviction is "spent" and, with certain exceptions, need not be disclosed by the ex-offender in any context such as when applying for a job, obtaining insurance, or in civil proceedings.
For adults, the rehabilitation period is 5 years for most non-custodial sentences, 7 years for prison sentences of up to 6 months, and 10 years for prison sentences of between 6 months and 2½ years. For a young offender (under 18) the rehabilitation period is generally half that for adults. Prison sentences of more than 2½ years can never be spent. Other sentences have variable rehabilitation periods. Compensation orders are only spent once paid in full, but being bound over to keep the peace would be spent either at the end of the order or a year (depending which is longer).
A conviction that is spent and need not be divulged under British law may not be so considered elsewhere. For example, criminal convictions must be disclosed when applying to enter the United States; spent convictions are not excluded.
Certain professions and employments are exempt from the Act so that individuals are not allowed to withhold details of previous convictions in relation to their job when applying for positions in similar fields. These professions include :
- Those working with children and other vulnerable groups, such as teachers and social workers
- Those working in professions associated with the justice system, such as solicitor, police, court clerk, probation officer, prison officer and traffic warden
- Doctors, dentists, pharmaceutical chemists, registered pharmacists, pharmacy technicians, nurses or paramedics
- Managers of unit trusts
- Anyone applying to work as an officer of the Crown
- Employees of the RSPCA or SSPCA whose duties extend to the humane killing of animals
- Any employment or other work normally carried out in bail hostels or probation hostels
- Certain officials and employees from government and public authorities with access to sensitive or personal information or official databases about children or vulnerable adults
- Any office or employment concerned with providing health services which would normally enable access to recipients of those health services
- Officers and other persons who execute various court orders
- Anyone who as part of their occupation occupies premises where explosives are kept under a police certificate
- Contractors who carry out various kinds of work in tribunal and court buildings
- Certain company directorships, such as those for banks, building societies and insurance companies
- Certain civil service positions are excluded from the act, such as employment with the Civil Aviation Authority and the UK Atomic Energy Authority.
- Taxi drivers and other transport workers.
Aside from these trades and professions, the law also exempts organisations if the question is asked:
- by or on behalf of The Football Association, The Football League or Premier League to assess someone’s suitability to work as, or supervise or manage, a steward at football matches.
- by the Financial Services Authority and certain other bodies involved in finance, when asked to assess the suitability of a person to hold a particular status in the financial and monetary sectors.
- to assess a person’s suitability to adopt children, or a particular child, or a question about anyone over the age of 18 living with such a person
There are also a number of proceedings before a "judicial authority" (widely defined) that are excluded from the Act, and where spent convictions can be disclosed. These include applications for adoption or fostering, and for firearms certificates.
Applicants to university courses are required to declare their criminal records on their UCAS forms. Students applying to do law, medicine, teaching, nursing and social work (or similar trades) may be barred if they have a conviction, even if it is spent.
Rehabilitation and actions for libel under English law
Section 8 of the Act, if a person can prove that the details of a spent conviction were published with a primarily motive of causing damage to the subject (malice), then the publisher may be subject to libel damages regardless of whether the details were true or not. This applies where the publisher is relying on a defence of qualified privilege or justification.
According to reference book Media and the Law, although British media remain free to publish the details of spent convictions, provided they are not motivated by malice, they generally avoid mention of such convictions after rehabilitation. However, media barrister Hugh Tomlinson QC is of the opinion that "in practice, the law of libel provides no sanction against the publication of spent convictions".
- http://www.yourrights.org.uk/yourrights/privacy/spent-convictions-and-the-rehabilitation-of-offenders/exceptions-to-the-roa.html The full list of professions exempt from the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974
- Crone, Tom; et al. (2002-06-05). Law and the Media. Focal Press. pp. 14–15. ISBN 0-240-51629-X.
- Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008, Schedule 10
- Official text of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 as in force today (including any amendments) within the United Kingdom, from the UK Statute Law Database
- Ministry of Justice Guidance to the ROA