A new review from a group of MPs and members of the House of Lords has called for teenagers’ criminal records to be wiped clean on their 18th birthday.
The report claims that for many children and teenagers, their criminal record only serves as an ‘anchor’ to the past, hampering their education and hindering their opportunities for employment.
For teenagers that have proven their ability to abide by the legal justice system for a considerable period of time, wiping their criminal record clean could be the crucial step needed to fully complete their reform and put them on track to an improved life.
Inquiry chairman Lord Carlile said:[quote]What we find is that people whose lives have been reformed – they’ve graduated, they’ve maybe become teachers or lawyers or accountants – are inhibited when obtaining work because CRB checks and other records show that they have committed an offence, for example the robbery of a mobile phone, when they were 16 years old.
It’s held against them for a very long time. So we think that if people have been through a good criminal justice system, they should be able to wipe the slate clean when they become an adult”[/quote]
As well as calling for records to be wiped clean at the age of 18, the inquiry also suggested that the current time periods for the elimination of convictions and cautions should be decreased. Under existing rules, convictions for under-18s stay on record for five and a half years, whilst for cautions it is two years. And some offences are never removed.
The inquiry claimed that evidence implied that children are often not aware that community resolutions, youth cautions and youth conditional cautions can still appear on criminal record checks. One young person is said to have described these low-level offences as an ‘anchor’ to the past.
However, Lord Carlile mentioned that a “decent time lapse” should be in place for more serious under-18 offences.
The report also threw doubt on the youth justice system as a whole, with regards to its systemic practices and its “inability” to prevent offending.
For one, Lord Carlile said that courts could be terrifying for a child, with many of them not understanding what is happening or what is expected from them. This prevents them from engaging with the process and the courts from achieving justice.
He said that the system must be made “much more accessible and understandable” for children, their parents and guardians, and for the victims.
In addition, it was found that many legal practitioners, including the judiciary, are “insufficiently trained” to recognise the needs of young offenders and lack the specific knowledge needed. Meanwhile, youth courts are often used as a place for young lawyers to ‘cut their teeth’, meaning many representations are not as qualified as they could or perhaps should be.
Lord Carlile stressed that no one, including judges and advocates, should be able to work in children’s courts without proper training.