Committee (10th Day)
Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill
Lord Thomas of Gresford (Liberal Democrat)
I congratulate the Government on the amendments that they are introducing into the Bill, which are the culmination of years of campaigning by my noble friend Lord Dholakia-within, and with the support of, the Liberal Democrats-to modernise the law.
Amendment 185FAA, in my name, was suggested by the Howard League, of which my noble friend Lord Carlile is president-unhappily, he cannot be with us tonight. Its purpose is to recognise that children may change in a shorter time than adults, something that the Minister has already recognised in his remarks today. The amendment affects a significant proportion of children with the opportunity to wipe the slate clean upon reaching 18 years of age. It refers to the question raised in the Green Paper that has been referred to: that the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 be amended so that children convicted of non-serious offences have a clean slate on reaching their majority. Paragraph 117 of the Green Paper says:
"We would welcome views on how we might do more for young offenders as we are aware that some people are, for example, finding their path to higher education blocked on the basis of juvenile convictions. 'Wiping the slate clean' once the offender reaches adulthood is a possible approach for all but the most serious offences".
There is no reference to this suggestion in the Government's response to the consultation, and I do not know whether any of the respondees actually dealt with the question that was asked.
Wiping the slate clean would have a big impact on the future employment prospects of young offenders. It is obviously intended to apply only to non-serious offences and the public will not be at risk of any harm. Clearly, the usual suite of public protection arrangements will continue to apply to jobs that involve working with children and vulnerable people. If this provision were adopted, it would be a powerful incentive for young people to rehabilitate as responsible adults in their communities. Such an incentive is important at a time when youth unemployment is at a record high and there is a risk of both crime and detention rates spiralling further.
The amendment has been crafted to ensure that rehabilitation periods are not spent before a young person completes their sentence. That does not mean that those who would otherwise be required to wait a long time before their conviction is spent would suddenly find themselves without any rehabilitation period at all, simply due to having committed an offence close to their 18th birthday. It would exempt those still serving their sentence at 18, including the licence period of that sentence, from the "wipe the slate clean" provision. In other words, if a young person committed a theft aged 17 and is sentenced to three years in detention, he would attract a rehabilitation period of three and a half years, commencing on the completion of his sentence at the age of 20. Therefore, the conviction would not be spent until he reached 23 years of age. However, if he committed a theft at the age of 14 and was sentenced to three years' detention, instead of waiting until the age of 21 for the conviction to be spent his sentence would expire when he was 17 and his conviction would automatically become spent on his 18th birthday. This provision deals with the possible criticism that a person who commits an offence aged 17 years and 11 months would have his conviction wiped clean on his 18th birthday. That would clearly be unacceptable and is most certainly not the intention of this amendment.
The Government raised the question in the Green Paper but we have not had an answer. I would welcome a response from my noble friend.