Anna Denton-Jones, Refreshing Law Last Modified  04 March 2016

Employers may wish to establish whether a prospective employee has any previous criminal convictions. The existence of a conviction does not automatically mean that the person is unsuitable for employment. Often a conviction will have no relevance to a particular job applicant's suitability for the job.

Key points

  • An employer will be acting unlawfully if they refuse to employ a job applicant on the grounds that they have a spent conviction or that they have declined to disclose a spent conviction.
  • For certain types of employment, however, it will be lawful for an employer to take convictions into account when deciding whom to employ and, at their discretion, to reject an applicant on the grounds that they have a spent conviction.
  • Employers may want to conduct formal checks on whether a prospective job applicant has past convictions.
  • Under the Data Protection Act, information about a job applicant's criminal convictions falls into the 'sensitive' data category.

Recent developments

Disclosing relevant information
The High Court has decided, in the case R (on the application of P) v Secretary of State for Justice [2016], that allowing the police to decide whether to pass on information about previous offences (particularly where the role involves working with children or vulnerable adults) is a breach of Article 8 of the Human Rights’ Convention. The rules have already been amended to allow older offences not to be disclosed where appropriate. But the court held that rules about lifetime or indefinite disclosure went beyond what was needed legitimately and infringed the right to a private life, particularly where the offences were not serious.

Pending an appeal, or changes to the statutory provisions or existing guidance, employers carrying out checks should not count on minor offences (resulting in cautions or conditional discharges) being disclosed if they are not relevant to a particular role or committed many years ago.