The Law Commission should be asked to look at how to fix the criminal records disclosure regime while the government is preoccupied with Brexit, a commissioner has said.
The government will have to go back to the drawing board after the Supreme Court dismissed its bid to overturn a Court of Appeal ruling that the scheme, which requires the disclosure of all spent convictions where an individual has more than one such conviction, was ‘not in accordance with the law’.
With the Lammy Review calling for a more flexible system, and the House of Commons public accounts committee’s inquiry into the disclosure and barring service, Professor David Ormerod QC, a law commissioner, told a conference on Friday that now is the right time for reform and take a more holistic approach.
Ormerod told the Youth Justice Summit, organised by the Youth Justice Legal Centre, which is part of Just for Kids Law, that the work would take the commission two to three years to do ‘but we would be independent of government, we have the experts and power to do that, and produce recommendations. The government is busy doing other things. Why not give the Law Commission this important opportunity to do that.’
The commission has previously done work on criminal records. In July 2016 the Home Office asked the commission to review the filtering system, which regulates when an individual has to disclose spent convictions and cautions.
Ormerod said: ‘Although we were asked to create a list that was accurate and workable, which we did, in doing so we were conscious that the number of cases of record checks which are relevant to youth convictions is huge.’ The commission said at the time that there was a compelling case for a wider review.
The summit also heard about Harrow Crown Court’s efforts to become a ‘best practice’ court for youths. Her Honour Judge Dafna Spiro said: ‘The idea that you treated children differently just by speaking to them very loudly as if they are stupid is changing.’
Harrow has developed a protocol entitled Harrow Crown Court: children and young people as defendants, pulling together guidance from the Criminal Procedure Rules, practice directions and sentencing guidelines. The document covers issues such as the process for pre-trial hearings, sentencing, and bail applications. If a defendant is produced via video-link and family members are in court, ‘we would try to make time for them to have five minutes with their families so they know someone is there supporting them’, Spiro said.
Spiro was appointed the court’s youth liaison judge and she is ‘going around all the courts in London putting pressure on them to do the same’.