Straw ponders clean slate for murderers

Murderers, arsonists and armed robbers could have their criminal records wiped clean under proposals being considered by the Home Secretary, Jack Straw.

Straw is considering setting up a Criminal Records Tribunal which would decide whether convicted felons, excluding sex offenders, warrant a second chance with a clean slate.

Paul Cavardino, a policy director at the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders (NACRO), said that “he [Straw] has agreed to consider the proposals”.

Cavardino said that the proposals will lay down a minimum period of time, possibly seven years, during which ex-prisoners must not re-offend, then convince the tribunal that they have truly changed their way of life.

One way to do this might be for a police officer to appear and give evidence on their behalf.

Critics say the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 is woefully out of date and serves only to condemn young offenders to a life of crime.

The law currently states that if a criminal has served more than 30 months in prison, then that conviction will stay on record for life. However, a mandatory spent conviction award will be made for anyone who has spent less time behind bars.

One leading criminal expert said those entitled to a spent conviction award could have it carried out automatically, while those who were not would be condemned to carry their convictions for life.

He added that this is made all the more absurd given that sentencing levels have jumped tremendously since the incorporation of the Act, with it now not being uncommon for young offenders to spend up to four years in prison before their 18th birthday.