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Human Rights Commission challenges law on Rehabilitation of Offenders

06 May 2021

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 full hearing will be heard remotely at 10.30am on 6 May 2021 in the Judicial Review Court, Belfast.

Chief Commissioner of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission Les Allamby stated:

“The Human Rights Commission is supporting the applicant at Court today. Currently the law in Northern Ireland means that 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. There is also no review mechanism for past offenders. In this case, the applicant has not committed any criminal offence for 40 years yet continues to have to disclose a criminal record undermining the right to privacy. As a result, the applicant struggled to find work, obtain insurance and faced barriers that made living a normal, law abiding life more difficult.

We recognise that in specific instances the lifetime disclosure of an offence is necessary in particular circumstances. However, we believe the current law is disproportionate and incompatible with the Right to Private and Family Life) under the European Convention on Human Rights. This case has been a catalyst for the first look at this specific issue since the law was introduced 43 years ago.”

NIACRO and UNLOCK are supporting the Human Rights Commissions case.

Chief Executive of NIACRO, Olwen Lyner said:

“Those who have an unspent conviction do not have the legal protection of the current Rehabilitation of Offenders Act. As a result, they will always have to disclose a conviction.

“The consequences of a criminal conviction go far beyond the sentence imposed by a court.

“And at NIACRO, we see first-hand the lasting impact having a record can have on individuals, who want to move on from their offence and move on with their lives.

“They can face barriers to employment, education, housing, financial services and travel, all of which deny them the opportunity of a second chance.

“People can, and do move on with their lives, and we see this every day in our work.”


Interview requests: Please contact Claire Martin on 07717731873 or

Notes to editors:

  • The full hearing will be heard remotely at 10.30am on 6 May 2021 in the Judicial Review Court. The hearing will last one day, judgment is anticipated in the autumn of 2021. Access a full fact sheet on the case on the Human Rights Commissions website here.
  • Facts of the case
    • 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.
  • What other parties are involved?
    • NIACRO and Unlock have provided supporting affidavits in the applicant’s 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.
    • 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.
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