New recruitment law in force
The change to the Data Protection Act is aimed at protecting the rehabilitation of offenders and ensuring that those who committed less serious crimes have a fairer chance of finding employment once they have reformed their lives.
Under existing law, those who been sentenced to periods of four years in prison or under who do not offend again do not need to disclose their criminal past. There is a precise schedule governing when such offences are deemed to be spent.
But some potential employers have been trying to get around the safeguards by requiring applicants to make, and hand over, a personal request under the Data Protection Act which enables people to obtain personal data held about them by another person or an organisation.
The justice minister, Simon Hughes, said, ‘It is vital that people with a conviction should be given every opportunity to reintegrate into society after serving their sentence and putting their offending behaviour behind them. For too long some people who may have had a minor conviction many years before face an unfair struggle to get a job and rebuild their lives.
‘Finding a job can be a crucial step in the rehabilitation process. This change will help make sure ex-offenders are given a level playing field when they apply for work.’
Any potential employer who tries to circumvent the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act by asking an applicant to carry out a data search could now face a fine of up to £5,000 in magistrates court or an unlimited financial penalty in crown court.
Section 56 of the Data Protection Act, which now comes into force, prohibits a person from requiring someone else to produce certain records as a condition of employment, or for providing a service, expect ‘where the relevant record is required by law or where it is justified in the public interest’.
The Ministry of Justice argues that it is in society’s interests that ex-offenders should be given the chance to reintegrate into their communities and lead law-abiding lives. Those convicted of more serious offences, however, will still have to declare previous convictions.
Source: The Guardian