Clause 54

Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:15 pm on 22 November 2007.

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Protection for spent cautions under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of David Burrowes David Burrowes Shadow Minister (Justice)

The broad rationale of the clause is clear and one cannot object to the concern to avoid prejudice against people who have received cautions, reprimands or warnings when they seek jobs and have to disclose their spent cautions. The position regarding the disclosure of spent convictions is set out in the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974. We accept that broad rationale, but I want to highlight our concerns.

Cautions, reprimands and warnings are not convictions, which is why they were outside the ambit of the 1974 Act, and it is important that we do not creep into considering those disposals to be on a par with convictions. That chimes with the earlier debate on pre-court disposals and the importance of distinguishing such disposals from a conviction. Plainly, a caution, reprimand or warning is an admission of an offence in which there is sufficient evidence to prosecute, but they are wholly different from convictions and should be treated as such. We are concerned that the good intention of trying to prevent prejudice against people with spent  cautions does not develop into their being seen as equal to convictions. It is important that we recognise the differences.

The rationale is based on the disclosability of previous cautions. What evidence is there that there is a problem regarding the disclosure of spent cautions? In their consultation paper of 19 August 1999, the Government said that

“it is anomalous for cautions, reprimands and final warnings to be disclosable in circumstances where convictions are not.”

The evidence was supposedly there then. Why, despite the number of criminal justice Bills that have gone through Parliament, are we now in a position that this clause has been added to the Bill? What additional evidence that there is a need to legislate is there now that was not there in 1999, when the supposed anomaly was highlighted? Has there been a problem in the intervening time without legislation that justifies the provision?

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Leader of the House of Commons 2:30, 22 November 2007

Further to the comments made by the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate, may I ask the Minister why this measure does not distinguish between the rehabilitation provision for a youth conditional caution and the adult equivalent? Throughout the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974, that distinction is made. That Act distinguishes between what applies to children or young people and what applies to adults. There is a different rehabilitation period for fines, community rehabilitation orders, community punishment orders, community punishment and rehabilitation orders, curfew orders, drug treatment and testing orders and for most custodial sentences. Indeed, even in part 1 of the Bill, there is a shorter rehabilitation period for the youth rehabilitation order than there is for the adult equivalent, so why is no distinction made in the case of these cautions? I am sure that the Minister has a reason, but it will have to be quite a good one to suggest that these measures must be an exception from all the other provisions that are covered by the 1974 Act.

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

Clause 54 introduces schedule 12, which is essentially the nub of the discussion that both hon. Gentlemen have provoked. The schedule provides for the extension of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 to cover reprimands, warnings, cautions and conditional cautions as well as convictions. The out of court disposals that the Bill introduces are not currently within the scope of the 1974 Act and therefore they never become spent. What that means, in effect, is that, in the event of clause 54 and schedule 12 not forming part of the Bill, the youth conditional cautions in particular—simple cautions that may have been given, for example, several years ago for relatively minor offences—will have to be disclosed when the Bill comes into effect. The purpose of the clause and the schedule is to ensure that those disposals become spent.

The 1999 consultation paper “The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 and Cautions, Reprimands and Final Warnings” proposed that those three out of court disposals should be brought within the ambit of the 1974 Act and that they should be immediately spent, because, as we have discussed, cautions are used primarily for less serious offences. Therefore, the Bill provides that simple cautions, reprimands and final warnings should become immediately spent.

Since that consultation exercise was undertaken, the Criminal Justice Act 2003 has introduced conditional cautions for adults, as has been mentioned, and the Bill proposes the introduction of youth conditional cautions for offenders aged 16 or 17. I believe that both of those cautions need to be brought into the scope of the 1974 Act.

Clause 54 and schedule 12 set the rehabilitation period for conditional cautions and youth conditional cautions at three months—the midpoint between simple cautions and the least serious court disposals. They also ensure that such cautions remain on record while the conditions are outstanding. I hope that hon. Members will welcome those facts, because I am sure that they would not wish to see the maintenance of those youth conditional cautions on offenders’ records in the future.

Our intention has been to legislate when parliamentary time allows, and the introduction of youth conditional cautions now makes it all the more important that we provide for those cautions to become spent. Clause 54 and schedule 12 will do so. I commend the clause to the Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 54 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 12 agreed to.

Clause 55 ordered to stand part of the Bill.