A criminal record should not be a life sentence | Letters

David Wacks on youth convictions and cautions, John Hughes on the need to delete records of minor offences from decades ago, and a magistrate on the need for DBS reform

Re your article (Thousands in England and Wales locked out of jobs because of mistakes in youth, campaigners say, 21 June), it is correct that cautions given to those under 18 no longer automatically appear on enhanced Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) certificates, but the police can seek disclosure. It is possible to object to such disclosure, but those affected should be aware that even if a caution is spent for the purposes of job applications in the UK, it still prejudices the recipient for life in getting any visa to travel abroad unless they can successfully apply for the caution to be deleted.

Convictions given to those under 18 can be disclosed even if spent, but many never are. For example, a person might be convicted of arson for throwing a cigarette in a bin, rather than it being recorded that they were caught smoking outside their school. Had the conviction been for criminal damage, or had it been a caution, they would not have a lifetime punishment.

Even if all youth convictions were spent after a few years, they could still appear on an enhanced certificate, in order to protect vulnerable people. We could institute a system similar to that of the independent reviewer of justice in Northern Ireland, who has the discretion to delete convictions from specific DBS certificates if the risk is deemed minimal.

The police can also disclose on enhanced certificates mere allegations of a serious crime, where a youngster had a mental health problem, or merely had a relative with a conviction.

There are different options of changes to the law to enable people criminalised as youngsters to move on with their lives, while still protecting vulnerable people. But if you punish people for life for mistakes/crimes committed as a youngster, then you not only ruin the rest of their lives but also make them liabilities rather than assets to their family and community.
David Wacks
Retired solicitor, and director of CRB Problems Ltd

• I served a three-month youth sentence for taking lead from an old building with someone else who had stolen a vehicle and picked me up. I got a conviction for taking a vehicle even though I could not drive, and for theft of the lead, which led to a three-month youth sentence that still appears on my enhanced check 47 years on. I also had a nine-month prison sentence (I served six) for theft 40 years ago.

I have worked with local councils and with the military and other organisations, and I have had to explain these minor crimes in all my job applications and interviews.

I wish common sense would prevail so that people like me are allowed the chance to have a clean slate and apply for jobs that fit our capability and education. I have studied and worked harder than most people to prove myself worthy of trust and respect.
John Hughes
Blackburn, Lancashire

• Re your editorial (21 June), as a sitting magistrate I would argue that the issue regarding criminal record checks and disclosure of prior offences of varying severity and age (including the requirement to notify a prison sentence for the whole of their life) is an issue of public perceptions of offending as much as a DBS system that needs revision. With about a third of men in the UK having a criminal conviction in their lifetime, we need to address the attitude that considers “offenders” as a single group and routinely casts them aside or provides barriers to change or atonement, irrespective of the nature of their offending.
Name and address supplied

• The final letter above was amended on 28 June 2022. An earlier version said a third of UK adults had a criminal conviction in their lifetime.


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