Human rights campaign group Liberty hopes the government will be defeated a third time over what it calls a 'disproportionate' criminal records disclosure regime.
The Supreme Court today begins hearing a challenge to rules requiring anyone with multiple convictions, no matter how minor, to disclose them to future employers.
Liberty represents P, who in 1999 was charged with shoplifting a book costing 99 pence. She was bailed to appear before a magistrates' court 18 days later but failed to attend and convicted of a second offence under the Bail Act 1976. P, who received a conditional discharge for both offences later that year, was suffering from an undiagnosed mental illness.
Liberty says P, who has not committed any crimes since then, has for many years aimed to work as a teaching assistant. However, she is required to reveal her two convictions during the application process and, in explaining the circumstances of the offences, is forced to reveal details of her medical history. Liberty says this breaches P's privacy rights under article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, that the system is arbitrary and disproportionate, and must be urgently reformed.
Last year the Court of Appeal ruled that the government's scheme, which requires the disclosure of all spent convictions where an individual has more than one such conviction, is 'not in accordance with the law'.
Ahead of today's hearing, P's solicitor, Rosie Brighouse, said: 'The criminal records disclosure scheme has twice been ruled unlawful - but instead of putting in place the urgent reform that’s so desperately needed, the government has chosen to fight this all the way to the Supreme Court. All P wants to do is move forward with her life. She is unable to do so because of two extremely minor offences committed nearly 20 years ago. We hope judges will agree that this situation is deeply unfair and disproportionate, and that it’s time for the government to put things right.'
Liberty says a flexible system, which considers individual circumstances in cases involving old and minor convictions, should be introduced. People would still have to declare any offence which indicates that they might post a risk of harm during the course of their employment.
A government spokesperson said it would be 'inappropriate to comment on ongoing legal proceedings'.
In his landmark review of criminal justice and race, Labour MP David Lammy said the records disclosure regime hampers people with convictions from starting new lives. Over the past five years, 22,000 black, Asian and minority ethnic children have had their names added to the Police National Database for offences including minor ones, such as a police reprimand. As a result, their names can show up on criminal record checks for careers ranging from accountancy and financial services, to plumbing, window cleaning and driving a taxi.
Lammy recommended a system adopted by many US states to seal criminal records, looking favourably on those who committed crimes as children or young adults, and can demonstrate that they have changed since their conviction.