The changes to rules about previous convictions, which people need to disclose to prospective employers, will finally be enacted in November –despite Holyrood passing the Management of Offenders (Scotland) Act in June 2019, and it receiving Royal Assent the following month.
Campaigners had been calling for the reforms, which will reduce the length of time many convictions still need to be disclosed by most job applicants, to be introduced quickly and described the delay as “vindictive”. However Scotland’s Justice Minister Humza Yousaf blamed the delay on Disclosure Scotland’s IT systems.
Today Mr Yousaf announced that the reforms would come into force this November, bringing the reduction in time for convictions to be “spent” in Scotland into line with England and Wales.
The changes will mean that people who receive a fine will only have the conviction on record for 12 months rather than five years, while those who receive community orders will also see the “disclosure time” reduced to just a year. For those with sentences of four years or longer, they will continue to have to disclose the conviction.
Scottish Labour's justice spokesperson James Kelly, who had been calling for the disclosure changes to come in to force since the start of the year, said: "Whilst this announcement is welcome, it is extremely unsatisfactory that it will be 16 months from Royal Assent before the disclosure regulations are enforced.
“It is unacceptable that people have been prevented from employment opportunities due to spent convictions still flagging up to employers. Due to Covid-19, there is already significant pressure on employment and the government should be removing additional barriers to the workplace, not creating them.”
Reforms will also see those aged 18 or older at time of conviction, and who receive a six month custodial sentence, will only need to disclose it for two-and-a-half years rather than the current seven years. Those under 18 will have the disclosure period for a six month prison sentence reduced from three-and-half years to one-and-half years and a fine will be six months instead of two-and-a-half years.
More than a third of adult men in Scotland have been estimated to have a criminal record and the reforms were supported across the Parliament when the Act was passed last year. Disclosure rules for sensitive occupations such as teaching or medicine will not change, but an admonishment or absolute discharge will no longer need to be disclosed.
Mr Yousaf said: “Parliament agreed that current disclosure periods are too long. Employment and the skills, opportunities and hope that it brings, can support routes out of offending, thereby contributing to safer communities.
“These important reforms balance the requirement for safeguards to understand a person’s recent offending behaviour with the need to allow people to move on with their lives – to seek gainful employment, support their families and contribute positively to their communities.”
He added: “I am grateful for the work of Disclosure Scotland in preparing for these changes, which can have a positive impact on our economy as well as society. Employers, insurers and others who routinely require information on criminal convictions should be aware of the changes so their processes continue to comply with the law.
“Even where potential employees need to disclose an unspent conviction, I hope employers can, where appropriate, see that as just one aspect of the person, alongside the skills and experience they can bring. Several high profile employers already take this approach and regularly pay testament to the rewards of doing so.”
The changes are supported by the employer-led Release Scotland network, which is chaired by Keith Rosser of recruitment company Reed.
Mr Rosser said: “The Management of Offenders Act is incredibly important for business. It removes many convictions that have no bearing on a person's suitability for a job from the recruitment process. By widening the pool of talent for employers and simplifying their recruitment decision this will lead to quicker responses for all and can only improve business resilience and sustainability.”
Dughall Laing of Recruit With Conviction, which supports employers and employability agencies in the recruitment of people with criminal records, also welcomed the reforms.
“The implementation of the new disclosure periods cannot come at a better time, particularly due to the developing understanding of the economic and consequential impacts on employment of Covid-19.” he said.
“The potential for workers to find their historic, irrelevant or minor convictions are protected in recruitment can only enhance the chances for thousands of individuals to access new, fairer and more secure employment opportunities across Scotland.”
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