The Andrews Labor government in Victoria is currently running an inquiry into a spent convictions scheme in Victoria, chaired by Fiona Patten MP. A spent convictions scheme is well overdue in Victoria, being the only state without a legislated scheme to limit criminal record enquiries for people with minor crimes in their past.
Hayley Mansfield, EO of ARC Justice notes: Many people out there find themselves unable to secure employment on the basis of criminal history records in their distant past, often for minor offences.
A submission to the inquiry by Goulburn Valley Community Legal Centre (a program of ARC Justice), explained how the lack of a spent convictions scheme unfairly affects many Indigenous community members.
One-off convictions have affected many of its clients, including a young Aboriginal mother who was denied work at a supermarket after shoplifting meat as a young mum in desperate circumstances 20 years earlier.
Another case involved an Aboriginal man, aged 55, who was denied work as a school cleaner due to an incident in his early 20s. He had been charged with intentionally causing injury when fighting with another Aboriginal man and then abusing police who attended. He was unable to make written submissions protesting the refusal to issue him a Working with Children card because of his poor literacy skills.
Cases such as these represent the tip of an iceberg of people who are unable to find work due to past convictions in their history.
In Victoria, when a request is submitted for a criminal history check, Victoria Police will disclose all prior findings of guilt, including where a court has chosen not to record a conviction and sometimes even when the offence was committed as a juvenile.
To counteract this unjust practice, the submission prepared by Goulburn Valley Community Legal Centre recommends:
- Providing that a person’s conviction for an indictable matter for which the sentence was equal to or less than 30 months incarceration has expired after 10 consecutive years of non-offending if sentenced as an adult, and 5 consecutive years if sentenced as a child;
- Ensuring sentences for non-indictable offences no longer form part of the record being released;
- Limiting the release of information about an applicant’s antecedents to Working with Children only if it is relevant to the safety of children and older or vulnerable persons with whom the applicants may work; and
- Ending the current discretionary practice of Victoria Police whereby findings of guilt without conviction, good behaviour bonds, recent charges or even outstanding matters under investigation that have not yet gone to court may be released.
In making these changes, it is hoped that the long list of Victorians with minor convictions in their distant past will at last, be able to move on with their lives.