Empirical Legal Research Network Seminar: 28th June 2010

The Empirical Legal Research Network hosted a workshop which explored the changes which have been made to the criminal convictions disclosure process over the past decade, with a particular focus on their implications in respect of young people referred on offence grounds to the Children's Reporter.  The workshop raised a number of interesting points and has since been the subject of an article in the Herald newspaper.

The Empirical Legal Research Network hosted a workshop which explored the changes which have been made to the criminal convictions disclosure process over the past decade, with a particular focus on their implications in respect of young people referred on offence grounds to the Children's Reporter.  The workshop raised a number of interesting points and has since been the subject of an article in the Herald newspaper.

Where an offence ground is accepted or later established by the Sheriff in a proof hearing, the child is deemed to have a criminal conviction for the purposes of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974. Changes to the disclosure process mean that this record may stay on the Criminal History System well into adulthood and may be disclosed to an increasingly wide range of employers and others for decades to come. Such records are currently subject to the so-called 40/20 rule; they are routinely kept, and disclosed through Disclosure Scotland, until either the person reaches the age of 40, or 20 years after the 'conviction', whichever is later.  In some cases the information that is retained and passed on is of referral details and background information, where there has been no opportunity for the child or parent to accept or dispute the facts. 
 
The extended period of disclosure undermines a key tenet of the Kilbrandon philosophy on which the Children's Hearing System is based: namely that the system should avoid the stigmatisation and criminalisation of children.
Instead it seems that children are being burdened (potentially) with a longer period of stigmatisation than adults for much lower level offences, or merely on suspicion.

Key questions addressed at the seminar were

(i) How well informed are children and families about the disclosure process and implications of accepting offence grounds?
(ii) What are the consequences for the young people whose early childhood transgressions remain on record for so long?
(iii) How can we better manage the risks of the few children and young people who do pose a significant risk of harm to others?

Speakers at the seminar included Bruce Adamson, Scottish Human Rights Commission; Nico Juetten, Parliamentary Officer, Office of Scotland's Commissioner for Children and Young People; Malcolm Schaffer, Scottish Children's Reporter Administration; David Strang, Chief Constable Lothian and Borders Police; and Lesley McAra, Centre for Law and Society, University of Edinburgh.

Read article in the Herald newspaper: 'Children's lives being ruined by panel records.'