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The debate over whether a young person’s criminal record should be wiped clean once they reach 18 has surfaced once more. Only a matter of weeks ago, The Northern Ireland Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders (NIACRO) called to make youth offending ‘Off The Record’. 

Claiming that previous convictions committed during childhood could have a lasting negative impact, NIACRO is pushing for the law to be changed in Northern Ireland. The Off The Record campaign calls for a change in the law to allow for minor childhood offences to be removed from criminal records. 

It proposes that anybody [in Northern Ireland] should be able to apply to a multi-agency panel to have old and minor offences removed from their criminal or police record. The one condition would be that the offences must have occurred under the age of 18. 

At the heart of the campaign is a film featuring Falklands War veteran Simon Weston. He was a candidate for a Police and Crime Commissioner role in England, but had to stand down due to minor offences committed as a youth. 

Bob Ashford, former Director of Strategy at the Youth Justice Board in England, has been particularly active in pushing the aptly named Off The Record campaign and is the ‘voice’ behind the latest NIACRO recommendations. He established the ‘Wipe The Slate Clean’ campaign in England and Wales when a fine from nearly 50 years ago for trespassing also stopped him standing as a candidate for Police and Crime Commissioner.

The proposals are based on a recommendation made in the 2011 Review of the Youth Justice System in Northern Ireland which has not yet been implemented.

As reported in The Belfast Telegraph, Stormont’s Justice Minister David Ford said his department was considering an independent review to see how particular childhood offences could be ‘screened out’ of records. 

Whilst all this is very interesting and could eventually make criminal justice history, what does it mean for the UK? 

Currently, criminal convictions for those under the age of 18 stay on their record for five and a half years, while cautions last two years. Some offences are never removed.

Only last year, an independent parliamentarians’ inquiry, chaired by Liberal Democrat peer Lord Carlile, received numerous submissions supporting the assertion that criminal records can be ‘destructive’ with regards to youth proceedings. The inquiry heard that having a criminal record can significantly hamper them from denouncing their criminal identity.

However, despite many organisations, including NACRO, voicing their support for effectively ‘wiping the slate clean’, the campaign seems to have lost some of its momentum in England and Wales. Certainly, it’s unlikely to feature in any forthcoming party manifestos.
Whatever happens in Northern Ireland though is likely to have an impact on any fresh proposals in England and Wales and will certainly divide opinion. We’ll be keeping a watchful eye on any progress across the water.

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Aly , 01 March 2015, 08:09 AM
This is an important step in ensuring that every child has a future chance.
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