Criminal Record Checks, Human Rights and Forgetting

Compulsory criminal record checks are increasingly common in many countries and for a wider range of employment and education applications. In many cases even criminal cautions and spent convictions are required to be disclosed, meaning for example that applicants for college and university courses may be turned down because of some minor brush with the law as a child – as has indeed happened on a number of occasions

But the necessity of such intensive surveillance of a person’s past is hardly necessary except for obvious cases like those who have committed sexual offences against children applying to work with children. The law in many jurisdictions has traditionally allowed for things to be forgotten for social reasons, and for people to have the space to build lives free from the prejudice that would accompany a permanent and accessible record of any minor offence. And now a senior judge in Britain has ruled that the trend to increasingly ubiquitous mandatory disclosure should stop. According to The Guardian newspaper, Lord Dyson argued that  “The statutory regime requiring the disclosure of all convictions and cautions relating to recordable offences is disproportionate to that legitimate aim [of like child protection],” and further that “as a conviction recedes into the past, it becomes part of the individual’s private life” and that a caution in particular should never be considered in the same way as convictions, “the administering of a caution is part of an individual’s private life from the outset”. Let’s see how the UK government deals with this ruling against their approach…

Author: David

I'm David Murakami Wood. I live on Wolfe Island, in Ontario, and am Canada Research Chair (Tier II) in Surveillance Studies and an Associate Professor at Queen's University, Kingston.

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