Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974

Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974

Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974
Long title An Act to rehabilitate offenders who have not been reconvicted of any serious offence for periods of years, to penalise the unauthorised disclosure of their previous convictions, to amend the law of defamation, and for purposes connected therewith.
Citation 1974 c. 53
Introduced by Kenneth Marks
Territorial extent United Kingdom
Royal Assent 31 July 1974
Status: Current legislation
Text of statute as originally enacted

The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 (c.53) of the UK Parliament enables some criminal convictions to be ignored after a rehabilitation period. Its purpose is that people do not have a lifelong blot on their records because of a relatively minor offence in their past. The rehabilitation period is automatically determined by the sentence, and starts on the day the sentence has been served. After this period, if there has been no further conviction the conviction is "spent" and, with certain exceptions, need not be disclosed by the ex-offender in any context such as when applying for a job, obtaining insurance, or in civil proceedings.

Under the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012, the Act as it applies in England and Wales was updated to provide new rehabilitation periods – with most convictions becoming spent in a shorter amount of time. For adults, the rehabilitation period is one year for community orders, two years for custodial sentences of six months or less, four years for custodial sentences of over six months and up to and including 30 months, and seven years for custodial sentences of over 30 months and up to and including 48 months. Sentences of over four years will never become spent and must continue to be disclosed when necessary. The rehabilitation period starts after the offender has completed his/her sentence, this includes time on license. For example an offender who received a two-year prison sentence will see his/her conviction spent six years from date of conviction - (two year sentence + four year rehabilitation period). For offenders who are under the age of 18 when convicted, their rehabilitation period is half of what an adult's rehabilitation period would be.

A conviction that is spent and need not be divulged under British law may not be so considered elsewhere. For example, criminal convictions must be disclosed when applying to enter the United States; spent convictions are not excluded.

The Act also creates offences of unauthorised disclosure of spent convictions or spent cautions by those who have access to official records in the course of their duties but who disclose them outside of the course of those duties. It also creates (more serious) offences of obtaining such information by dishonest means.


  • Exemptions 1
  • Rehabilitation and actions for libel under English law 2
  • Police cautions 3
  • References 4
  • See also 5
  • External links 6


Certain professions and employments are exempt from the Act so that individuals are not allowed to withhold details of previous convictions in relation to their job when applying for positions in similar fields. These professions include :

  • Those working with children and other vulnerable groups, such as teachers and social workers
  • Those working in professions associated with the justice system, such as solicitor, police, court clerk, probation officer, prison officer and traffic warden
  • Doctors, dentists, pharmaceutical chemists, registered pharmacists, pharmacy technicians, nurses or paramedics
  • Accountants
  • Veterinarians
  • Managers of unit trusts
  • Anyone applying to work as an officer of the Crown
  • Employees of the RSPCA or SSPCA whose duties extend to the humane killing of animals
  • Any employment or other work normally carried out in bail hostels or probation hostels
  • Certain officials and employees from government and public authorities with access to sensitive or personal information or official databases about children or vulnerable adults
  • Any office or employment concerned with providing health services which would normally enable access to recipients of those health services
  • Officers and other persons who execute various court orders
  • Anyone who as part of their occupation occupies premises where explosives are kept under a police certificate
  • Contractors who carry out various kinds of work in tribunal and court buildings
  • Certain company directorships, such as those for banks, building societies and insurance companies
  • Certain civil service positions are excluded from the act, such as employment with the Civil Aviation Authority and the UK Atomic Energy Authority.[1]
  • Taxi drivers and other transport workers.
  • Butlers and other domestic staff

Aside from these trades and professions, the law also exempts organisations if the question is asked:

There are also a number of proceedings before a "judicial authority" (widely defined) that are excluded from the Act, and where spent convictions can be disclosed. These include applications for adoption or fostering, and for firearms certificates.[1]

Applicants to university courses are required to declare their criminal records on their UCAS forms. Students applying to do law, medicine, teaching, nursing and social work (or similar trades) may be barred if they have a conviction, even if it is spent.

Rehabilitation and actions for libel under English law

Section 8 of the Act, if a person can prove that the details of a spent conviction were published with a primary motive of causing damage to the subject (malice), then the publisher may be subject to libel damages regardless of whether the details were true or not. This applies where the publisher is relying on a defence of qualified privilege or justification.

According to reference book Media and the Law, although British media remain free to publish the details of spent convictions, provided they are not motivated by malice, they generally avoid mention of such convictions after rehabilitation.[2] However, media barrister Hugh Tomlinson QC is of the opinion that "in practice, the law of libel provides no sanction against the publication of spent convictions".[3]

Police cautions

The Act was extended to cover police cautions in 2008.[4] A caution is considered to be spent as soon as it is given.


  1. ^ a b The full list of professions exempt from the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974
  2. ^ Crone, Tom; et al. (2002-06-05). Law and the Media. Focal Press. pp. 14–15.  
  3. ^
  4. ^ Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008, Schedule 10

See also

  • Right to be forgotten

External links

  • Text of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 as in force today (including any amendments) within the United Kingdom, from the UK Statute Law Database
  • Ministry of Justice Guidance to the ROA