Published 14 November 2013
The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 - Commons Library
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Standard notes SN01841. Authors: Sally Lipscombe."
Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 aims to give those with
convictions or cautions the chance – in certain circumstances – to wipe
the slate clean and start afresh.
the Act, eligible convictions or cautions become “spent” after a
specified period of time known as the “rehabilitation period”, the
length of which varies depending on how the individual concerned was
dealt with. Prison sentences of over 30 months are excluded from the
scope of the Act and can therefore never become spent. The
rehabilitation periods for other types of sentence vary according to
whether the person was cautioned or convicted and, if the latter, the
type of sentence imposed. Rehabilitation periods will generally be
shorter for offenders aged under 18 when they were convicted.
the conviction or caution becomes spent, the offender is regarded as
rehabilitated and (for most purposes) is treated as if he had never
committed the offence.
there are a number of exceptions to this general approach. For
example, for some types of employment a person can be required to
disclose details of both unspent and spent convictions or cautions.
Government has recently legislated (via section 139 of the Legal Aid,
Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012) to reform the 1974 Act
in two key ways. The first key change is to extend the scope of the Act
to cover custodial sentences of up to 48 months, and the second is to
change the length of some of the rehabilitation periods (in most cases
by reducing them).
The Act received Royal Assent on 1 May 2012 but
section 139 has not yet been commenced and so is not yet in force. The
Government had initially indicated that section 139 would be commenced
in spring 2013; however, in February 2013 the offender rehabilitation
charity Unlock said that it had been notified by the Government that
section 139 would not now be commenced until November 2013. In answer
to a PQ in October 2013, the Government said that it was working through
some significant business and technical issues regarding implementation
that were required to be resolved before commencement. It said that it
aimed to have the reforms in place at the earliest possible point."