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Human Rights Commission challenges law on Rehabilitation of Offenders

20 Jan 2021

Human Rights Commission challenges law on Rehabilitation of Offenders

The Human Rights Commission is challenging the current law on the rehabilitation of offenders in Northern Ireland. The current law prevents any convictions of more than 30 months in prison from ever becoming spent. The case for leave will be heard in the High Court on Wednesday 20 January 2021.

Chief Commissioner Les Allamby stated:

“The Human Rights Commission is supporting the case of an applicant at Court today. We hope by taking this case it will bring about a wider change to the law on the rehabilitation of offenders in Northern Ireland.

“Currently, any conviction of over two and a half years in prison must always be disclosed, no matter what the circumstances and however long ago the offence was committed. As a result, it must be disclosed to employers, insurance companies and many others. In this case, the applicant has not committed any criminal offence for 40 years. People should be entitled to move on and the current blanket approach to the law does not assist rehabilitation.

“The Commission recognises that in certain cases the lifetime disclosure of an offence is completely necessary and lawful.

“However, we believe that the current approach that is in place for certain offences is disproportionate and is incompatible with Article 8 (Right to Private and Family Life) of the European Convention on Human Rights. The need to reform the law was recognised several years ago in England and Wales.”

The Northern Ireland Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders (NIACRO) is supporting the Human Rights Commissions case.

NIACRO Chief Executive Olwen Lyner added:

“NIACRO welcomes the case and the potential wider impact it could have. Everyday people come to us who are wanting to move on from their offence-they have completed their sentence as handed down by the court. However, the current law acts as a barrier and leaves many individuals feeling they can never be rehabilitated in the eyes of the law. This legislation was developed to provide for a second chance, but its limitations have been obvious for many years. It now needs to reflect current government policy as evidenced by the research”.


Notes to editors:

The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission is an independent statutory body first proposed in the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement (1998) and established in 1999 by the Northern Ireland Act (1998). It is answerable to Parliament at Westminster.

Facts of the case

• This case was heard remotely at 2pm on Wednesday 20 January 2021 at Belfast High Court. The Commission was granted leave to appeal, and a date for the full hearing has been fixed for 6 May 2021.

• The Commission is supporting the case of an individual in order to bring about a wider change to the current law on the rehabilitation of offenders in Northern Ireland. The individual has asked for anonymity.

• The individual in the Commission’s case committed an offence of arson in the early 1980s, no one was injured though damage to property occurred. The offence was neither paramilitary related nor sectarian in motivation.

• The individual was arrested and completed the prison sentence. Since completing the sentence the individual has had no further involvement in the criminal justice system and has had no further convictions.

• The conviction can never be spent under the current law. Once a conviction becomes spent it no longer needs to be disclosed to most employers or to other third parties, such as insurance companies.

• The Northern Ireland Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders (NIACRO) and Unlock have provided supporting affidavits in the Commissions case.

NIACRO: NIACRO is a voluntary organisation which has been working for almost 50 years to reduce crime and its impact on people and communities.

Unlock: Unlock is an independent award-winning national charity that provides a voice and support for people who are facing stigma and obstacles because of their criminal record, often long after they have served their sentence.

What the current law in NI is:

Article 6 of the Rehabilitation of Offenders (NI) Order 1978 provides that sentences of imprisonment lasting more than thirty months are excluded from rehabilitation. Therefore, such offences can never become ‘spent’ and must be disclosed. There is no mechanism for an individual in this situation to apply for their conviction to become spent, irrespective of the passage of time or personal circumstances.

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