To The Right Honourable Theresa May Home Secretary

To The Right Honourable Theresa May Home Secretary

Dear Home Secretary,

I received a response from Damian Green to my letter of 4th October on 30th December 2012. I am unhappy with the response from the Minister and would like you to consider and reply to the following comments.

The letter states what the Government has done but not what it intends to do. In the Home Affairs Select Committee in December, the Prisons Minster, Jeremy Wright, in response to a question from Jeremy Corbyn MP on the PCC barring legislation said, “this was something the government needed to look at again”. Is this still the case? If so, when will it be looked at, especially now in light of the points in the penultimate paragraph of this letter?

In paragraph four of the government’s response the Minister says: “I can understand how disappointing it must be to have to resign from the PCC candidacy however the Government feels that the nature of this role requires the highest standard of character- similar to that to which a police officer would be held.”

I find this both insulting and disingenuous. To imply that after a successful and blameless career working with young people in trouble in the care and criminal justice systems that I am not of “the highest standard of character” is to condemn everyone with a criminal conviction, no matter how trivial the offence and no matter how long ago it was committed. How does this fit with the Governments rhetoric on the “rehabilitation revolution?”

In looking at recruitment practices for police forces it is clear that these decisions are made locally, as is proper. It’s also clear there must be a difference between someone applying to be a police officer (usually in their early 20s) who holds a criminal conviction committed within the past few years and someone like myself whose offence was committed 46 years ago as a 13 year old. It is also a fact that there are hundreds if not thousands of serving police officers who have been found guilty of imprisonable offences and still continue to serve as officers.

Why when the Home Office has advertised recently for Independent Police Complaints Commissioners, the people who will oversee complaints against the Police and Police and Crime Commissioners, has the barring standard been set at a lower level? It does seem odd that people who have to judge the actions of Chief Constables and PCCs should be judged themselves by a different set of standards.

These arguments have now found support from the Court of Appeal and Lord Dyson in the “T” case. This concerns a 21 year old who had to disclose police cautions received when he was an 11 year old. Lord Dyson has said this is not compatible with Article 8 of the Human Rights Act – the right to a private and family life. A full judgement is expected this week but almost certainly will require further legislation. This is excellent news for those who have criminal convictions (over 30% of adult males) and who have found their lives blighted and stigmatised by convictions when they were young for the rest of their lives.

I would welcome your responses to these points, and, in particular, I would like to know what action the Government will be taking in response to the Appeal Court Judgement. I would also welcome the opportunity to meet with you to discuss these issues.

Yours sincerely

Bob Ashford

Founder Wipetheslateclean

 

 

 

Wipetheslateclean, Press Release: Law Lords Agree – A Criminal Conviction Should Not Be a Life Sentence

The Court of Appeal  gave its verdict on Friday 25th January: the system which requires automatic disclosure of all convictions and cautions when applying for certain jobs, regardless of how long ago, how minor or their relevance to the job being applied for is incompatible with Article 8 of the Human Rights Act- the right to a private and family life.

The ‘T’ case, in which Liberty intervened, concerned a 21 year old man who received warnings from Manchester Police when he was 11 years old in connection with two stolen bikes. This information was disclosed on two occasions: when he applied for a part-time job at a local football club at the age of 17 and later when he applied for a University course in sports studies.

A hearing took place at the Court of Appeal today to consider the Government’s concerns. In the course of the hearing the Master of the Rolls, Lord Dyson, said that the Government should “pull its finger out” to reform the CRB system, having known about the problems of a blanket system for some time. The Court said it hoped to hand down the judgment next week.

This will have major implications for the whole system of Criminal Record Bureau (now the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks managed through the Home Office. Future changes to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act were proposed in the Legal Aid and Sentencing of Offenders Act (LASPO) but this proposes even stronger action.

Bob Ashford, who founded Wipetheslateclean as a result of being forced to step down as the Police and Crime Commissioner Candidate for Avon and Somerset because of childhood offences committed when he was 13 years old, 46 years ago welcomed the move:

“The whole system of criminal records checks is unfair, uncoordinated and far too complex. Why should people with criminal convictions receive a life sentence when it comes to seeking employment and being full members of society? This is a  positive and major step forward and a step on the way to a true rehabilitation revolution.”

Notes to Editors

1. Wipetheslateclean www.wipetheslateclean.org.uk @WipeSlateClean has two aims: Changing the barring legislation relating to Police and Crime Commissioners and secondly to raise the wider debate about how we treat people with criminal convictions. Case studies and more information can be found on the website.

2. Wipetheslateclean main supporters include Unlock; User Voice, The National Association of Youth Justice (NAYJ) as well as many other organisations and individuals

3. Bob, who lives in Frome Somerset has spent a lifetime career working with young people in trouble and in need, working as a social worker before becoming one of the first Youth Offending Team Managers. From here he moved to the Youth Justice Board for England and Wales, an organisation he worked for over 10 years, leaving as Director of Strategy in March last year. He has spoken at numerous national and international conferences and advised countries as diverse as Canada and Bulgaria on their justice systems.

4. Bob can be contacted  on ashforb@googlemail.com

Court of Appeal – Blanket Criminal Records System Incompatible with Right to Privacy

Press Release from Liberty 25th January

Today the Court of Appeal revealed it has concluded the system of criminal records checks, which requires automatic disclosure of all convictions and cautions to certain employers, regardless of their relevance to the job in question, is incompatible with Article 8 of the Human Rights Act – the right to a private and family life. It circulated a draft judgment to that effect in December in the case of ‘T’, but the Court’s conclusion had not been revealed publicly until today.  

For the full press release go to Liberty

Rehabilitation Revolution? I don’t think so. Government sticks by its PCC barring legislation

 

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The letter above is from the Minister of State for Policing and Criminal Justice, Damian Green. It is in response to the letter I sent to him on 4th October last year, following my resignation as the PCC for Avon and Somerset. I didn’t even receive an acknowledgement of the letter or any other communication until the Guardian featured the campaign in a full page spread on the 4th December. A short email then arrived from the Home Office on 6th December stating:

“A ministerial response is due shortly to your letter. Many apologies for the delay in replying.”

The response has therefore taken almost 3 months to arrive and quite frankly doesn’t answer the points in my letter. I asked the Minister two questions:

What action your government intends to take to :

• Reforming the legislation relating to the bar on PCCs and criminal convictions and;

• Taking a wider and proactive approach to the rehabilitation of ex-offenders.

On the first question the answer appears to be nothing. And this is despite the universal condemnation of the barring legislation, which conflates “seriousness” with “imprisonable offences”, and which led me and other well-qualified people to resign as PCC candidates for minor offences committed many years ago.

On the second question the response is wholly tied up with “Payment by Results”, a policy being rolled out nationally despite research on pilot schemes not yet being available. The response completely misses the many other available options which have been well tried and tested in the past and really could bring about a “rehabilitation revolution”.

The sentence I have most issue with is:

“I can understand how disappointing it must be to have to resign from the PCC candidacy however the Government feels that the nature of this role requires the highest standards of character- similar to that which a police officer would be held”

The implication is crystal clear. Despite a lifetime career in social care and criminal justice and being successfully vetted by the Home Office to work on security sensitive issues, my character is flawed and forever defined by two offences I committed when I was 13 years old, 46 years ago. The statement is also incorrect, for many serving police officers at every level have been convicted of imprisonable offences. In advertising recent Police and Complaints Commissioners, who will oversee complaints against the police and PCCs, the Home Office requires a lower level of barring than that of PCCs and therefore in their own words they would allow people without “the highest standards of character “ to judge the actions of the police and Police and Crime Commissioners.

I am hugely disappointed by this response on a personal level, but also once more for the message it sends to those who have found themselves in trouble with the law, no matter how long ago and how minor their offences. It underlines the wasted opportunity to truly bring about a “rehabilitation revolution” which would be of benefit to victims of crime, local communities, and taxpayers alike by recognising that people who have offended (who make up 30% of the adult male population) have worth and should be encouraged and helped to reintegrate into society, not punished for the rest of their lives.

I will be responding to the Minister. I also sent a copy of the letter to the Home Secretary, Theresa May on 4th October : I have yet to receive a reply.

 

 

 

 

INCONSISTENT, UNCOORDINATED, THE HOME OFFICE STRIKES AGAIN

When the Parliamentary committee discussed the possible disqualification for Police and Crime commissioners  Nick Herbert, Minister for Policing, was unequivocal:

“The importance of the police and crime commissioner post means that it requires a higher standard….. because those elected individuals will hold a police force to account, and members of the police force are themselves held to a higher standard for obvious reasons. There is a case, therefore, for treating PCCs differently from those in other elected posts. That is why I brought forward the amendment. Under the amendment, any person convicted of an imprisonable offence at any time will be permanently disqualified from standing as a police and crime commissioner. I emphasise “an imprisonable offence”; the amendment does not suggest that the person has to have been sentenced to a term of imprisonment. That is a very high standard that is unprecedented for a UK election. The position, however, is unprecedented, too, and the nature of the post demands a higher standard. The standard is higher than any that has been suggested in either Government or Opposition amendments. It is a stringent measure, but it is right, so I hope that the Committee will understand why I tabled the amendment. “

Despite the committee having little grasp on the nature of “imprisonable” offences (the majority of offences are imprisonable including trespass on a railway embankment!) the cross-party committee agreed the test. This of course led to my resignation and that of several other prospective candidates who had been found guilty of offences in their childhoods. This week the Home Office advertised two posts for Independent Police Complaints Commissioners (IPCCs). The role:

“From 22 November 2012, police authorities were replaced by elected Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs). The IPCC will be responsible for investigating all criminal allegations against PCCs, and their equivalents in London as well as complaints against the police and including Chief Constables.”

As the Chief Executive of the IPCC Dame Anne Owers says:

“The IPCC performs a role which is central to our democracy. It exercises its powers on behalf of society as a whole, not necessarily in a way that the individual complainant or police officer would want. It operates in a highly adversarial and emotionally charged context, subject to intense and often critical public and media scrutiny. We are seeking truly exceptional people who will relish these challenges, demonstrate independence and lead the IPCC through the next phase of its life. “

One would think then that the standards for these posts in terms in individuals would be even higher than those for Police and Crime Commissioners given that they will be policing the police and PCCs? Think again because the main disqualification bar in terms of past criminal offences is:

“People who have received a prison sentence or suspended sentence of three months or more in the last five years. “

Now I have absolutely no issue with this level of disqualification but it does highlight how one government Department, the Home Office, who are responsible for both posts, can get this so badly wrong. It raises again the absurdity of the original disqualifications of the PCC posts and the arbitrary way that issues concerning the rehabilitation of offenders are dealt with across government.

It’s time for a new and radical approach not just the PCC posts but how we view and treat people with past criminal convictions.

Bob Ashford Wipetheslateclean.

Association of Youth Offending Team Managers support Wipetheslateclean

Today the  Association of Youth Offending Team Managers (AYM) signed up in support of the Wipetheslateclean campaign. Interim Chair of AYM, Gareth Jones said,

“The Association of Youth Offending Team Managers (AYM) is pleased to support the Wipetheslateclean campaign launched by Bob Ashford, former YOT Manager and Director at the Youth Justice Board. It is absurd that Bob was forced to stand down as a Police & Crime Commissioner candidate in the recent election campaign due to a minor conviction he received over 30 years ago as a youth for which he was fined £5.”

Bob Ashford said, “I am really pleased that the AYM have agreed to support this important campaign. As a previous YOT manager myself and someone involved in the youth justice for many years it wasn’t until I was forced to resign and was deluged with e mails from other people whose lives had been blighted by criminal records that I realised the full extent of the damage that can be caused by the current systems and policies. With the support of AYM and other organisations I believe we can make a real difference to what is an extremely confusing, complex and un-coordinated area of the CJS.”

Gareth Jones went on to say, “The AYM supports the principle that young people and adults who have committed offences should not be damaged throughout their lives by a criminal record. Having accepted responsibility for their actions, they should be allowed to fulfil their potential and play a full and productive part in society. It’s a social and economic tragedy that we spend billions each year on criminal justice but then prevent people who turn their lives around from working and paying taxes.”

Wipetheslateclean: a non-political campaign

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9.2 million people in the UK have criminal records.

Should every a criminal record be a sentence for life?

It’s time for an informed debate about the long-term impact of criminal records on people’s lives.

Young people and adults who have committed offences should not be damaged throughout their lives by a criminal record. Having accepted responsibility for their actions, they should be allowed to fulfil their potential and play a full and productive part in society. It’s a social and economic tragedy that we spend billions each year on criminal justice but then prevent people who turn their lives around from working and paying taxes.

Wipetheslateclean is a non-political campaign that works collaboratively with organisations and people to shape practice and challenge the law in this area.

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