Rehabilitation of Offenders Act and spent convictions – media mentions
I am considering two guest blogs at the moment – both happen to be about fox hunting but similar issues arise as those described below about other wildlife crimes (such as against birds of prey).
When people write about illegal fox hunting they tend to want to give examples where ‘huntspeople’ have been convicted of crimes – generally speaking, this has to be a good thing as otherwise readers would ask why, if illegality is common, no examples are given. But sometimes these examples are a while ago.
The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 covers the period after which convictions are regarded as being ‘spent‘. After a period, depending on the severity of the conviction, a conviction can essentially be ignored and should not prejudice, for example, the job prospects of the individual concerned.
So can the media, including this blog, report convictions which are spent? As I understand it, from this very clear (and I’m guessing accurate) account, I should not mention spent convictions here although the cahnces of anything very awful happening to me or my guest bloggers is rather low (but that isn’t really the point, is it?).
Here is an excerpt from tht website;
What are the rules on reporting spent convictions?
The publication of ‘spent’ convictions by the media can breach the provisions of the 1974 Rehabilitation of Offenders Act (ROA). Under the ROA, your conviction becomes spent at the end of a specified ‘rehabilitation period’ (so long as you have not been given any further convictions during this time). To calculate when your conviction will become spent, you can visit www.disclosurecalculator.org.uk or find out about other ways here.
The length of this period varies depending on the length of the sentence. However, if the prison term is more than four years (both immediate and suspended), or was an extended sentence for public protection, then the conviction will never become spent.
Under the ROA, when a conviction has become spent, it is as though, for most purposes, it has never occurred. You are not obliged to disclose a spent conviction, and you should not be prejudiced as a result of one. This means that in law, for a media organisation to report your spent conviction amounts to an untruth, meaning that they are open to accusations of defamation.
It is not a criminal offence to report a spent conviction, so the ROA does not impose a criminal penalty on journalists or media organisations who do so. As a result of the ROA, technically, anybody reading about the spent conviction shouldn’t use that information in a way that disadvantages you in any way. Of course, this is difficult to prove, and even if you could prove it, there is little you can do.
So, I’m going to use that as guidance. This means that I am going to ask guest bloggers here to take account of this advice.
It is a bit odd though. I could take you to many places, many of them on BBC websites, where individuals’ convictions were reported in the media (perfectly correctly) at the time of the case, and remain on websites many years after those convictions are spent. That seems a bit odd and means that if the identity of a convicted offender is anonymised in one account, a quick internet search can often disclose all the details of the case and of the offender (whose conviction is spent) on another site. Is that how the law is supposed to work?
It also seems that it is easier to give details of a case where something happened and no-one was convicted than to mention a similar case where someone was convicted.
Has anyone got any wise thoughts on this matter?