Should the slate be wiped clean at 18 for petty youth criminals? Inquiry says low-level offences should be erased on reaching adulthood
Children who have committed low-level offences but have stopped breaking the law should have their criminal record wiped clean when they turn 18, an inquiry into youth justice has recommended.
The independent parliamentarians’ inquiry, chaired by Liberal Democrat peer Lord Carlile, received a large number of submissions arguing that criminal records were a “destructive” aspect of youth proceedings as they hinder children from shaking off their criminal identity.
A conviction or caution for an under-18 is filtered from their record after five and a half years or two years respectively under current rules followed by the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS), formerly known as the Criminal Records Bureau (CRB).
Among other changes, Lord Carlile’s inquiry has called for the time period for filtering cautions and convictions for under 18s to be reduced.
The recommendation comes after five Supreme Court justices concluded a man’s right to private life was breached when he was forced to reveal a childhood police caution for bicycle theft to a prospective employer.
Enver Solomon, director of evidence and impact at the National Children’s Bureau (NCB), which provided administrative support for the inquiry, said: “This is one of the most wide-ranging and important inquiry reports on youth justice that has been conducted for many years.
“It sets out important reforms that must be taken forward if the youth justice system is to ensure that resources are not unnecessarily wasted on processing children through the courts in a way that fails to ensure they do not go on to become the criminals of the future.
“It merits urgent attention by all political parties to bring forward new approaches that are well evidenced and will deliver far better outcomes for child defendants, victims and their families.”
Criminal records can impede education, employment and rehabilitation prospects, the report said.
One young person told the inquiry a criminal record was an “anchor” to past offences.
Evidence submitted to the inquiry suggested it is often not made clear to children by police that some out-of-court disposals, such as community resolutions, youth cautions and youth conditional cautions, can appear on criminal record checks.
The inquiry also recommends that multiple convictions received by under-18s should be permissible for filtering, the process whereby certain offences are identified and not disclosed on a criminal record check, providing a specified period of time has elapsed since the last conviction.
It also called for convictions resulting in a custodial sentence to be filtered if the sentence was six months or less, and for robbery and burglary offences that do not result in a custodial sentence to be filtered.
Elsewhere, the inquiry concluded the Crown Court is inappropriate for children.
The report said the “intimidating nature” of the court and lack of youth expertise was stopping effective sentencing and could contravene the rights of children to a fair trial.
Lord Carlile said: “Although much good practice has developed over the years in relation to crime committed by children, we found that the youth justice system is far from being fit for purpose.
“Too often children are being left to flounder in court with little understanding of what is happening to them.
“Nowhere is this disengagement and lack of comprehension more obvious than in the Crown Court.
“Even with determined special measures to make the court more child-friendly, there is strong evidence that an appearance in the Crown Court for a child is a negative and terrifying experience.
“Where possible, children should not be taken before a court, and Crown Court appearances for under-18s should be the rare exception.”
Yesterday, a case at the Supreme Court heard a man had a criminal record because he had received two warnings about the theft of a bicycle when he was 11.
When he applied for a job at a football club - and for a place on a sports studies course - the warnings he had received as a child were automatically disclosed because he might have come into contact with children.
One Supreme Court justice, Lord Reed, said it was “plain” that the disclosure of data relating to the man’s childhood cautions was an interference with his human right to private life.
Did you get a criminal conviction when you were younger? Did it have an impact on your job prospects? Contact political editor Annabelle Dickson on 0207 219 3384.