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  • Dr Roderick Mulgan

Wiping the Slate - Criminal Records (Clean Slate) Act applications and the right to move on

Updated: Sep 11, 2023

Updated: May 19 2022

A criminal conviction is a millstone for life. Once the black mark is entered against your name in the Justice Department’s computer, it is there forever. In particular, it is there when you apply for a job. Many employers require a police checks, and very few will take a second look at you when they see a conviction in your record. Or at least it used to be.

This can be horribly unfair; a person who shop lifted when they were a drunk teenager should not have it held against them when they apply for a job at the age of forty-five.

That is why Parliament passed the Criminal Records (Clean Slate) Act in 2004. Before then, thousands of people who made one mistake blighted their chances for life. These days, that no longer happens with minor offences. If you commit a minor offence like shoplifting or drink driving, it will be concealed after seven years. That means no one can find it on your record after that time.

The Clean Slate Act does not conceal more serious offences. People who commit serious offences still have to live with the record for the rest of their lives. Or do they?

In 2017 we were contacted by a man who committed a sexual offence 20 years ago. He wanted to embark on a new career, and he knew the conviction would be an obstacle. There was only one way to help him: ask the judge to conceal the offence. That’s right, the Clean Slate Act still allows more serious offences to be concealed if a judge agrees. The person applying has to show they no longer pose a risk to society, and if a judge accepts that, then even a serious offence can get Clean Slated.

The trouble was, as far as we could see, no one had ever done it before. The only other case we knew of did not actually get put before a Judge (incidentally, it was one which Stephen Iorns was appointed amicus curiae, a lawyer to assist the Court with what was then a novel application in 2012). In the decade and a half the law has existed, no one had succeeded in using this provision. No serious offence had ever been Clean Slated by Court order.

Nevertheless our client instructed us to try, and we did it. The Herald report can be accessed here. When the High Court issued its judgement, it found in his favour. His record is now concealed, he is getting on with his life. Since then three other people with records of historical sexual offending have instructed us to do the same, and we have successfully obtained orders for all of them.

So it can be done, and if you are in that position, we are happy to talk to you. An important caution: this option can’t be used if you went to prison. Once you have served a prison sentence, there is no prospect of concealing your record.

But if you did not go to prison, your offence was more than seven years ago, and it is holding you back in life, then pick up the phone! We will see what we can do.

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