There is an interesting parliamentary procedure called a ‘Ten Minute Rule Bill’ that allows MPs to raise subjects they deem to be important, but that are not currently part of the legislative process. In some ways it is like a junior version of a Private Members’ Bill, but with even less chance of success.
Yesterday, a Bill was presented in the House of Commons with support from all three of the main political parties in England. This was the Criminal Records (Childhood Offences) Bill, presented by its sponsor, the Conservative MP, Theresa Villiers.
In her speech about the aims of the Bill, Teresa Villiers said,
‘A key problem is that we have no distinct criminal records system for children. Apart from some limited differences providing for slightly shorter rehabilitation periods and other timeframes, children are subject to the full rigours of the disclosure system that I have outlined. Records relating to under-18 offences are retained for life. I believe that the childhood criminal records system in England and Wales is anchoring children to their past and preventing them from moving on from their mistakes. It is acting as a barrier to employment, education and housing. It is therefore working against rehabilitation, undermining a core purpose of the youth justice system. The current rules also perpetuate inequality. The Government’s race disparity audit concluded that children from a black and minority ethnic background are sadly more likely to end up with a criminal record. A system that is unduly penal in its treatment of such records has a harder and more disproportionate effect on BME communities. Similar points can be made about children who have spent time in care.’ https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2018-10-10/debates/1205F56C-ECAF-4272-81F7-BA1E629CA816/CriminalRecords(ChildhoodOffences)
I entirely agree. In September 2009, almost a decade ago, I wrote a piece for the TES in my regular column at that time. It was headed 93,601 – the number of 10-17 year olds gaining their first criminal record. https://www.tes.com/news/93601-number-10-17-year-olds-gaining-first-criminal-record
In that TES piece, I pointed out that some 700,000 young people gained a criminal record between 2000 and early 2008; not including those handed a caution or other out of court disposal. Fortunately, attitudes to dealing with petty offending have moved on from the days of Labour’s target culture and in 2016-17 there were just 49,000 proceedings against young people either in a court or by way of cautions for an admitted offence. This is still way too high, but half the level of a decade ago. https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/676072/youth_justice_statistics_2016-17.pdf
Those children from a decade ago are now adults, but as I said in 2009, and Theresa Villier’s Bill sought to highlight, they carry the stigma of being an offender with them into their adult life. Not only must they declare it on an enhanced disclosure for a job as say, a teacher, but it can also affect their ability to travel to some countries that require visas, such as the United States.
My solution was that any summary offence, and most either way offences, including theft, should be removed from the record after a period of say five years free of offending.
I hope that the government will find time to either insert a clause in an appropriate piece of legislation or take up this Ten Minute Rule Bill and provide parliamentary time for it to proceed. Carrying a criminal record for the rest of your life should not be a matter of when you were born, but of the severity of your criminal behaviour.