The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act
The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act (ROA) 1974 applies to England, Scotland and Wales, and is aimed at helping people who have been convicted of a criminal offence but have not re-offended since.
Anyone who has been convicted of a criminal offence, and received a sentence of not more than 2.5 years in prison, benefits as a result of the Act, if he or she is not convicted again during a specified period otherwise known as the ‘rehabilitation period’. The length of this period depends on the sentence given for the original offence and runs from the date of the conviction. If the person does not re-offend during this rehabilitation period, they become a ‘rehabilitated person’, and their conviction becomes ‘spent’.
For example, if a person receives a sentence of imprisonment or detention in a young offenders institute of between 6 months and 2.5 years, the rehabilitation period is 10 years, or 5 years if the individual was under 18 at the time of conviction. For an absolute discharge the rehabilitation period is six months.
Sentences can carry fixed or variable rehabilitation periods and these periods can be extended if the person offends again during the rehabilitation period. If the sentence is more than 2.5 years in prison, however, the conviction never becomes ‘spent’. It is the sentence imposed by the courts that counts, even if it is a suspended sentence, not the time actually spent in prison.
Once a conviction is ‘spent’, the convicted person does not have to reveal it or admit its existence in most circumstances. There are some exceptions relating to employment, however, these are listed in the Exceptions Order to the ROA. The two main exceptions relate to working with the elderly, sick or vulnerable. If a person wants to apply for a position involving working with children or working with the elderly, sick or vulnerable, as firefighters do, you may be required to reveal all convictions, both spent and unspent.