Important changes to rehabilitation periods for offenders


Changes to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974, made by the Police Crime Sentencing and Courts Act 2022, have now come into force.

The changes affect the rehabilitation periods for offences committed in England and Wales and are retrospective, so will apply to convictions and sentences issued before the date that the amendments came into force.

Under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 (“the RoOA”), certain convictions and cautions become ‘spent’ after a period of time known as the ‘rehabilitation period’.  The length of the rehabilitation period depends both on the sentence given, or disposal administered, following the conviction, and on the age of the individual at the date of conviction.

Reductions have been made to some of the rehabilitation periods.  The aim is to improve access to employment for rehabilitated individuals and thereby reduce the rates of reoffending, on the basis that fewer convictions will be disclosable to prospective employers for non-sensitive jobs and activities.

These periods were last amended in 2014, when my colleague Sam wrote an extremely useful column in which she set out the relevant changes.  As was the case in 2014, distinction is made between adult and young offenders and the length of most rehabilitation periods have been reduced.

The most significant change is that previously, any custodial sentence in excess of 4 years would never be spent.  However, now only offenders issued either with life terms, orders for preventative detention, detention at His Majesty’s pleasure, public protection sentences or with custodial sentences of four years or more in relation to  what are known as schedule 18 offences (such as murder, manslaughter or rape) will be obliged to disclose their convictions for the rest of their lives.

However, whilst custodial sentences of four years or less will now eventually be deemed spent, if the individual commits any further offences during the rehabilitation period, then both the original and subsequent offences will be disclosable for whichever of the appliable rehabilitation periods is longer.

As Sam noted in her article in 2014, one of the key points to note from a journalist’s perspective is that even spent convictions can be published, provided that it is in the public interest to do so.  Where such disclosures are made, there may be a number of defences available to a claim in libel, such as absolute or qualified privilege, honest opinion and/or truth, depending on the circumstances.

However, in the case of the truth defence, and contrary to the general rule, what must be remembered in relation to revealing details of spent convictions is that malice will defeat a truth defence.  The purpose of this additional requirement is to discourage publishers from revealing details of spent convictions without a good reason for doing so.  In other words, an individual who has been rehabilitated deserves a second chance, unless there is a public interest reason for revealing that person’s past.

Whilst the effects of the rehabilitation periods in general have not changed from a journalists’ perspective, calculation of the relevant time periods has changed quite significantly, and it is worth taking the time to familiarise yourselves with these changes to ensure that you do not fall foul of the law.

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