Call to make youth offending Off The Record

Local organisation NIACRO has called for a change in the law to allow for minor childhood offences to be removed from criminal records.

NIACRO, which works to reduce crime and its impact on people and communities, launched the ‘Off The Record’ campaign in The MAC on Wednesday with a short film featuring a range of high profile campaign supporters, including Falklands War veteran and charity activist Simon Weston and criminal records campaigner Bob Ashford – both of whom had to stand down as candidates for Police and Crime Commissioner roles due to convictions they had received as children.

‘Off The Record’ proposes that anyone should have the opportunity 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 before the individual was 18 years old. The policy is based on a recommendation made in the 2011 Review of the Youth Justice System in Northern Ireland which has not yet been implemented.

Currently, many convictions become ‘spent’ after a certain period of time, meaning they do not have to be disclosed on basic checks. However, even ‘spent’ convictions – including those received as a child – are disclosed on enhanced checks for people applying for a range of courses or jobs, and can also prevent foreign travel and access to services.

Olwen Lyner, Chief Executive of NIACRO, said:

“A criminal record should not be a life sentence, but increasingly we are hearing from the people we work with – including adults – that they are being denied employment, education, training and travel opportunities due to a minor offence committed when they were just a child. Perversely, this actually makes them more likely to re-offend, as avenues to move on in life and build a stable career are closed off to them due to this criminal record which, in the case of minor offences, serves little purpose other than to continually punish someone.

“At just 10 years old, we have one of the youngest ages of criminal responsibility in Europe, and around 15% of our young people are not in education, employment and training. In addition, thousands of young people enter our youth justice system every year. We have to ask ourselves now, whose interest is it in to deny people the opportunity to move on from childhood misdemeanours?”

Former Director of Strategy at the Youth Justice Board in England, Bob Ashford, has also lent his support to the call for change in Northern Ireland. Bob founded the ‘Wipe The Slate Clean’ campaign in England and Wales when a fine of two pounds and 10 shillings from 47 years ago for trespassing stopped him standing as a candidate for Police and Crime Commissioner for Avon and Somerset in 2012.

Speaking at the event on Wednesday, Bob said:

“The fine that was issued to me when I was 13 clearly wasn’t intended to be a life sentence, and yet nearly 50 years later it’s still there on my record. There is no argument for why old and minor offences from childhood should haunt people forever. It something that impacts a startling number of people: it’s not right, and it needs to change.”

Fellow would-be Police and Crime Commissioner candidate Simon Weston OBE also spoke passionately of his support for the policy change, explaining how an offence dating back to when he was 14 not only led to him joining the army but then prevented him from standing for office decades later.

Simon echoed the call for people to be allowed to move on and build a life:

“We’re talking about old and minor offences, for people who aren’t deemed to be a risk. So why would we deny them employment or education because of something they did as a child? The best way to prevent reoffending is through effective rehabilitation, but the current criminal records practice isn’t about rehabilitation – it’s about revenge.”

The short film is available to watch on NIACRO’s YouTube channel here: