Former arsonist at heart of bid to let ex-offenders hide convictions

An individual who served a prison sentence for arson is at the heart of an effort by the NI Human Rights Commission to revamp the law, so that many ex-offenders do not have to reveal their criminal history.

Thursday, 6th May 2021, 12:00 am
Looking through a cell’s bars at an exercise yard at The Maze prison

The ex-prisoner – whose name, age, and even sex are not being disclosed on privacy grounds – is currently required by law to disclose their arson conviction to employers.

There has long been a system in place across the UK whereby people who served only short stints in jail can distance themselves from their past by no longer being required to declare their criminal records after a certain number of years have passed.

Such old offences are known as “spent convictions”.

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Now a judicial review case is being brought by the commission (backed by the voluntary group Northern Ireland Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders) in a bid to spur a re-think of the law.

Commission chief Les Allamby said: “Currently the law in Northern Ireland means any conviction of over two-and-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.”

The commission also said that the ex-offender did not injure anyone through their act of arson, and that it was not Troubles-related in any way.

The News Letter asked specifically what the commission hopes to achieve (for example, raising the threshold from two-and-a-half-years to five).

It responded: “The applicant does not seek to amend the legislation in a specific way, but to ask the court to declare that the current legislation is incompatible with their rights under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights [which deals with private and family life].”

It was also asked if it aims to include ex-terror convicts in its plan to expand spent conviction terms. It replied: “No. The Commission seeks to declare the current legislation as incompatible with the applicant’s human rights.”

The court case will be held this morning in Belfast.

l Meanwhile, the department of Justice is opening up a public consultation today on two different proposals: creating a new three-year draft Victim and Witness Strategy, and creating a Victims of Crime Commissioner.

It runs until July 29. For details see – www.justice-ni.gov.uk/victimsofcrime

Read more from this reporter at the links below:

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