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Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission Welcomes Judgment in Rehabilitation of Offenders Challenge

01 Nov 2021

The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC) today welcomes judgment in this challenge to the law on the rehabilitation of offenders.

The NIHRC supported an individual applicant in Judicial Review proceedings to challenge the law which prevents convictions ever becoming spent, if the sentence was for more than 30 months imprisonment.

NIHRC recognised that lifetime disclosure may be appropriate in a number of cases, but a general provision that did not take any account of particular circumstances, was disproportionate and therefore a breach of Article 8 European Convention on Human Rights (the right to private and family life), which is not justified.

The breach was further compounded by the fact that there is no review process that an individual can invoke, regardless of the passage of time or a change in circumstances.

Chief Commissioner of the NIHRC Alyson Kilpatrick stated:

“The NIHRC welcomes today’s judgment and looks forward to amendment of the relevant legislation. The NIHRC assisted this individual because the current law presents an unjustifiable barrier to rehabilitation. A person who received a prison sentence of more than 30 months is unable to ever become a rehabilitated person, no matter how much time passes or whatever steps they take to rehabilitate. This life-long barrier to rehabilitation has a detrimental impact upon people (and also their families) and creates further barriers to rehabilitation by restricting access to employment and travel, amongst other things. This has had a detrimental impact on the applicant and is an issue faced by many across Northern Ireland.

The Court has agreed and made a Declaration that the failure to provide a review mechanism for unspent convictions is a breach of the applicants’ human right to a private and family life under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The Department of Justice has commenced a consultation to consider reform of the rehabilitation provisions in Northern Ireland. The NIHRC has responded to the consultation and will continue to monitor its progress in light of this judgment.”

Chief Executive of NIACRO, Olwen Lyner welcomed today’s judgment.

“Today’s judgment brings us a step closer to making the necessary changes to the rehabilitation of offenders legislation in Northern Ireland. It paves the way for change for those who have an unspent conviction and to date have always had to disclose their conviction.

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

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.

People 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. We expect that today’s ruling will now provide the opportunity to introduce the changes that will assist them in doing so.”


Interview requests: Please contact Jason McKeown on 07769361156 or

Notes to editors:

Court Details

Judgment was given by Lord Justice Colton at 10am on 1 November 2021 in the Judicial Review Court.

Facts of the case

The NIHRC supported 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 Court has granted anonymity.

The individual in the NIHRC 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.

Access a full fact sheet on the case on the NIHRC website here.

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.

Department of Justice Consultation

The Department of Justice Consultation on proposals to reform rehabilitation periods in Northern Ireland can be viewed here. The NIHRC response to this consultation can be read here.

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