I am today announcing the Government plan to commence reforms to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 on 10 March 2014. These reforms are important in supporting our wider agenda on transforming rehabilitation. We know that obtaining employment can be an important factor in reducing reoffending and these reforms will help more people who have shown that they have put their offending behaviour behind them to get back into productive work. The provisions will reduce the period of time during which some offenders may have to disclose their convictions to prospective employers—the rehabilitation period. I should emphasise, however, that public protection will not be compromised. It will remain the case that fuller disclosure of cautions and convictions will continue to apply to a range of sensitive occupations and activities. In addition, the most serious convictions will remain subject to disclosure for any job.
The measures being commenced are contained in sections 139 and 141 and schedule 25 to the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012. These reforms shorten the rehabilitation periods for most convictions, after which they are considered to be “spent” and need no longer be disclosed for most purposes. The changes also extend the scope of the 1974 Act as it applies in England and Wales so that custodial sentences of up to, and including, 48 months may become spent. Previously the longest custodial sentence which could become spent was 30 months. The reforms will act retrospectively.
These amendments to the 1974 Act apply in England and Wales only and impact on criminal conviction certificates, which show an individual’s unspent convictions. section 112 of the Police Act 1997 governs the issue of these certificates and it is also being commenced in England and Wales on 10 March to ensure that accurate criminal convictions certificates are available reflecting the revised rehabilitation periods in this jurisdiction.
The above reforms will also allow the Government to take steps to commence fully section 56 of the Data Protection Act 1998, the only provision in this Act not to be in force. Section 56 of the Data Protection Act 1998 will come into force shortly after the changes to the 1974 Act are commenced.