Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974

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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.
Citation 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Text of statute as originally enacted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 on the day the sentence has been served. 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. A conviction for the purposes of the ROA includes a conviction issued outside Great Britain (see s1(4) of the 1974 Act) and therefore foreign convictions are eligible to receive the protection of the ROA.[1]

Under the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012, the Act as it applies in England and Wales was updated to provide new rehabilitation periods – with most convictions becoming spent in a shorter amount of time. For adults, the rehabilitation period is one year for community orders, two years for custodial sentences of six months or less, four years for custodial sentences of over six months and up to and including 30 months, and seven years for custodial sentences of over 30 months and up to and including 48 months. Sentences of over four years will never become spent and must continue to be disclosed when necessary. The rehabilitation period starts after the offender has completed his/her sentence, this includes time on license. For example an offender who received a two-year prison sentence will see his/her conviction spent six years from date of conviction - (two year sentence + four year rehabilitation period). For offenders who are under the age of 18 when convicted, their rehabilitation period is half of what an adult's rehabilitation period would be.

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 for US immigration purposes under US law.

The Act makes it an offence for anyone with access to criminal records to disclose spent convictions unless authorised to do so. The Act makes it a more serious offence to obtain such information by means of fraud, dishonesty or bribe.[1]


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 solicitors or barristers, police, court clerk, probation officer, prison officer and traffic warden
  • Doctors, dentists, pharmaceutical chemists, registered pharmacists, pharmacy technicians, nurses or paramedics
  • Accountants
  • Veterinarians
  • 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.[2]
  • Taxi drivers and other transport workers.
  • Butlers and other domestic staff

Aside from these trades and professions, the law also exempts organisations if the question is asked:

However, it should be noted that disclosure of a criminal conviction where necessary, i.e. not covered by the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974, does not automatically bar a particular individual from employment in a given profession. For instance, notable cases include Khalid Missouri, a former robber turned successful and respected solicitor;[3][4] Gary Bell, a former fraudster turned high profile successful Barrister and Queen's Counsel;[5] and Selwyn Strachan, who was convicted of murder in Grenada and served a sentence of 40 years.[6][7] Similar cases can also be found in both education, medicine, domestic employment, as well as other profession. In short, each case is determined on its own merits even where disclosure is necessary because the conviction either cannot become spent or is exempt from the protections of the Act.

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.[2]

Additionally, previous convictions can be cited in criminal proceedings, even if they are spent. However, the Lord Chief Justice and the Home Office has advised the Courts that spent convictions should not be mentioned except in very special circumstances.[1]

Applicants to university courses are only required to declare their relevant criminal convictions, cautions and verbal bind overs on their UCAS forms. Relevant criminal convictions must be declared and are defined as including offenses against the person, drug trafficking and drug possession. Non-relevant criminal convictions, i.e. those not specifically defined as relevant, need not be declared unless specifically required on the application; applications which require disclosure of non-relevant criminal convictions mostly focus on medicine, teaching and jobs related to children. Criminal convictions are divided into two categories: relevant and non-relevant and both can be considered spent under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974. The impetus for this division is to broaden the availability of education and access to education.[8]

Rehabilitation and actions for libel under English law[edit]

Section 8 of the Act, if a person can prove that the details of a spent conviction were published with a primary 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.[9] 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".[10] Nevertheless, numerous claimants have been successful in achieving settlements prior to litigation with various news firms. Additionally, many individuals have been successful in requesting removal of spent convictions from search engines and other public forums after the ECJ's recent right to be forgotten decision.[11]

Police cautions[edit]

The Act was extended to cover police cautions in 2008.[12] A caution is considered to be spent as soon as it is given.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c
  2. ^ a b The full list of professions exempt from the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974
  3. ^ "Becoming a solicitor - Information Hub by Unlock - Online self-help information for people with convictionsInformation Hub by Unlock – Online self-help information for people with convictions". Retrieved 2015-11-14. 
  4. ^ "Robber allowed to qualify as a solicitor in the same court that jailed him". Mail Online. Retrieved 2015-11-14. 
  5. ^ "Gary was a fraudster. Now he's a barrister with a TV show". Retrieved 2015-11-14. 
  6. ^ "Wannabe solicitor with murder conviction is allowed to do the LPC - Legal Cheek". Legal Cheek (in en-US). Retrieved 2015-11-14. 
  7. ^ Charles, Mr. Justice (02/11/2014). "Selwyn Strachan v. Law Society, High Court of Justice Queen's Bench Division" (PDF). High Court of Justice Queen's Bench Division. High Court of Justice Queen's Bench Division. Retrieved Retrieved 11/13/2015..  Check date values in: |access-date=, |date= (help)
  8. ^
  9. ^ Crone, Tom; et al. (2002-06-05). Law and the Media. Focal Press. pp. 14–15. ISBN 0-240-51629-X. 
  10. ^
  11. ^ "Google's 'right to be forgotten' - but does it help people with convictions? - Information Hub by Unlock - Online self-help information for people with convictionsInformation Hub by Unlock – Online self-help information for people with convictions". Retrieved 2015-11-14. 
  12. ^ Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008, Schedule 10

External links[edit]