People given police cautions or reprimands as children or those convicted of multiple minor offences may not have to disclose them in future after the government lost a legal challenge to the criminal record checks system.
In a complex ruling on four separate cases, the supreme court rejected three of the appeals by the Home Office over the issue of whether those who were found guilty of lesser offences or cautions need to disclose them when seeking employment involving contact with children and vulnerable adults.
The criminal record checks system, known as the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS), requires past offences to be revealed in a number of circumstances. These include where the conviction or caution is serious, where it is current and not deemed to have been spent under the 1974 Rehabilitation of Offenders Act, where it resulted in a custodial sentence, and where someone has more than one conviction.
Critics have condemned the system as being too harsh, preventing people with minor past convictions from applying for jobs and moving on with their lives.
The claims were originally brought by four applicants identified only as Lorraine Gallagher, P, G, and W. One involved a woman stealing a sandwich. Gallagher, in Northern Ireland, was convicted of driving offences involving failing to wear a seatbelt and not using a seatbelt to carry a child.
The court said there were two competing legal interests to resolve: protecting the public and the rehabilitation of offenders.
Lord Sumption, delivering the judgment, said existing criminal records rules were disproportionate on two counts: the way in which they required disclosure for multiple convictions even if they were minor and the way they failed to distinguish between warnings and reprimands issued to juveniles, as opposed to convictions.
Welcoming the decision, Penelope Gibbs of the Standing Committee for Youth Justice, said: “It is great that the supreme court has recognised that there are aspects of the current criminal records regime that are not fit for purpose. But we are disappointed that the judgment did not go further.