Northern Ireland rehabilitation of offenders legislation challenged
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Marc Bloomfield
The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission has been granted leave to judicially review the Rehabilitation of Offenders (Northern Ireland) Order 1978 SI No 1908 (NI 27), in particular the provision that any sentence of over 30 months following conviction can never be spent and must be declared to employers, insurers and many others. The challenge is based on the current law being contrary to article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (the right to private and family life). The case will be heard in May 2021.
Following reform in England and Wales, and Scotland, sentences of over four years must be declared throughout the rest of an individual’s life. A white paper entitled A smarter approach to sentencing (CP 292), issued by the Ministry of Justice in September 2020, has proposed a rehabilitation period of the length of the sentence plus seven years for those imprisoned for more than four years, with serious sexual, violent and terrorist offences being excluded from such provision.
In the present case, the applicant was convicted of arson 40 years ago and sentenced to five years in prison, and has had a clean record since, yet the need to disclose has impaired chances of employment and affected obtaining business and other insurance. The application is supported by evidence from NIACRO and Unlock with examples of how the current law continues to impact on job prospects and access to training, accommodation, insurance and travel.
The judicial review has already had one result in that, in January 2021, the Department of Justice in NI published Rehabilitation of offenders: a consultation on proposals to reform rehabilitation periods in Northern Ireland, though its proposals are unlikely to assist the applicant. If any changes are made to rehabilitation periods, it will be the first time since the introduction of the original law in 1978.

About the author(s)

Description: Les Allamby - author
Les Allamby is the chief commissioner of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission.