Should the police keep all criminal records?

The BBC are asking on the HYS message board whether the police should keep all criminal records.  It follows a court of appeal decision to overturn a High Court decision that would have forced the police to wipe the records of over 1 million crimes.  The case came after a person convicted of stealing a packet of ham costing 99p in 1984 went for a CRB check to discover that this came up.

So, should such records be kept?  It’s a tough question.  When one thinks of the enormous powers the police have to dispense “instant justice” meaning many receive a criminal record without ever having had the evidence tested before a court of Law and the way that the police now hand out such forms of instant justice (cautions and FPNs) like sweets.  Many who receive such cautions and FPNs would be better off in a court because the evidence the police are using to issue such forms of instant justice can, on occasions, not be sufficient to obtain a conviction in court.  I’m sure Inspector Gadget will just love what I’m saying, but then again I doubt he could disagree with it so far.

Since coming into power in 1997, Labour have created over 3000 criminal offences, many of which are just a slight alteration to already existing offences to make it look as though they are tough on crime.  Essentially, what they have done is made everyone a criminal.  On top of that the police detection targets have skewed things a lot – where the police would once have given a ticking off to a person they are now being forced to arrest people and these people will often then simply accept a caution or FPN so as to avoid having to go through court, thus pleasing senior officers and allowing them to keep their Government masters happy.  In reality, what we are seeing are people who do not benefit from getting a criminal record, who are otherwise good members of society and in the past would not have gotten one being criminalised so that the detection targets an be higher than what they would otherwise be (it acts as a way of balancing out the non-detected crimes that the police will inevitably have).

Next, the way the police treat people can sometimes depend on what comes back from them on a person check.  The information they get is very limited over the radio and the facts are often missed out.  This can change the way they treat a person, which can lead to that person being further criminalised a lot quicker than they would otherwise have been (thus artificially inflating the re-offending rates) – this is most notable with youths.

So, should the police keep all criminal records even after the conviction has been spent?  Despite all I have said above, I would have to say yes.  However, the rules on how that information is used should be altered.  For example, why does an employer need to know about a single act of stealing a 99p packet of meat over 20 years ago?  Why would a police officer at the roadside need to know such information?  The way in which the information is accessed is what needs to change.

Where convictions are spent and are not relevant to the job then they should not be disclosed on a CRB check.  I would expect an adult who was convicted of assaulting a child who is the subsequently applying for a job where they are going to be responsible for children to have such information disclosed to their future employer.  However, such a thing should not be a barrier to that person’s employment.  The prospective employer should, then, be able to take all the information into account – maybe even ask the individual about the conviction – when reaching a decision.

Same when it comes to the police on the street – if a conviction in spent under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act, then, the officer has no need to know about such things and the control room should not be able to see such convictions when the results come through to their computer.

It is a complex system I know, but a conviction is a conviction after all, but convictions should never be used as a way to prevent these people being upstanding members of society.

There are people on BBC’s HYS talking about national security and protecting the public, but I have every confidence in the courts that they would not have given a ruling which meant those convicted of offences that put public or national security at risk would have their records wiped.  How could being convicted of stealing a 99p packet of meat in 1984 ever be seen as a risk to public or national security?