(7 months, 2 weeks ago)Read Full debate
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who is the Chair of the Justice Committee and a barrister of long standing at the criminal Bar. He is absolutely right to talk about the test of relevance. It is not the purport of any inquiry ambit or the function of any inquiry chair to adopt a floodgates approach to the disclosure and use of spent convictions. In the other place, the noble Baroness Barran put it very well when she set out to their lordships a flowchart of the way in which a particular decision about the use of spent convictions would be taken. She said:
“The first question is: does the individual have spent convictions, yes or no? If the answer is yes, are they relevant? Will they be treated anonymously? If they apply for anonymity, will that be agreed to? Further, even if it is not anonymous, is the hearing held in private or in public? If it is held in private, could the information then be published?”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 20 May 2019; Vol. 797, c. 1792.]
I thought that that was a clear exposition of the framework within which a decision maker would carry out their function when it comes to spent convictions. In other words, that is the sort of filter that I think meets the concerns not only of Members in the other place but of Members in this House.
I was talking about future inquiries, and was saying it is likely that other inquiries may need to consider spent criminal records, as these can be key to determining whether authorities have acted reasonably in assessing and responding to risk. The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 affords offenders protection from having to disclose their convictions and cautions, once those convictions and cautions have become what is termed “spent” under the Act. That is the point at which the offender has become rehabilitated. The exceptions order to that Act lists activities or categories of jobs where those protections are lifted so that offenders, if asked, need to disclose their spent convictions.
The primary rationale behind the exceptions order is that there are certain jobs—positions of public trust, for example, or those involving unsupervised work with children—where more complete or relevant disclosure of an individual’s criminal record may be appropriate to mitigate risks to public safety. The exceptions order is not limited to employment purposes, although that is its primary use. The amendment proposed here is not employment-related, but related only to the consideration of evidence of spent convictions and cautions in inquiries that are caused to be held under the Inquiries Act 2005.
The right hon. Gentleman raises a very proper point, and I can assure him that the work that his Committee has done and the campaign to ban the box are matters that I and my colleagues in the Department are considering very carefully indeed. I will chart the changes that we have already made to the 1974 Act and the direction of travel later in my remarks, but I would say to him for that in the flowchart that I have outlined, the sort of concerns that he properly raises about an individual’s employment prospects could be raised in the inquiry before the Chair, when the Chair decides whether to publish the information or to retain anonymity. So there will be safeguards designed to protect against the sort of mischief that he properly probes me about.