Spent Convictions Legislation

evidence shows that it is eight times harder for a person to gain employment [after imprisonment], with declaration of a criminal record the greatest factor in an employer refusing employment.’ – Scottish Government, Key facts, Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974


More than 1 in every 3 men and almost 1 in every 10 women in Scotland have a criminal record. A past conviction can become ‘spent’, which means a person with a conviction no longer has to disclose their criminal record after a certain number of years. How long until the conviction is effectively removed from your record is stated in legislation, in Scotland this is the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974. Regulations that permit past criminal transgressions to become spent are vital as it allows a person to move on from a conviction. However, unduly harsh spent conviction legislation means people have to reveal their criminal history for long periods of time, sometimes forever, severely hindering a person's attempt to find employment, training and volunteering, secure insurance and even open a bank account. These are basic and normal features of adult life, thus spent conviction legislation can render someone a second class citizen as well as socially and economically marginalising them. Moreover, access to these opportunities and routines are important for social reintegration and reducing re-offending. We advocate that a decrease in the period of time that must pass before a conviction becomes spent, what is known as a ‘rehabilitation period’, is overdue. Reducing the ‘rehabilitation period’ removes a significant hurdle, one that blocks a person with a conviction from being socially integrated and disrupts their ability to desist from crime. Change in the spent conviction legislation is due in 2018. Though the content of the proposed new legislation is not yet published, HLS strongly support a robust overhaul of the current arrangements. While the balance of the Act must also support employers who work with vulnerable groups, it should strive to also work in favour of social and economic equality for those with convictions.

Read more:

How long until my conviction is spent?

Evidence on prisoner voting rights for Equalities and Human Rights Committee


Howard League Scotland welcomes the opportunity to participate in the roundtable discussion about prisoner voting rights held by the Equalities and Human Rights Committee (Thursday 7 September 2017).

Howard League Scotland believes that a blanket ban on convicted prisoners voting is wrong: the right to vote should only be removed with more specific justification, if ever. We have argued against the blanket ban on both occasions relevant legislation has come before the Scottish Parliament.

We wish to highlight the following points to the Committee:

  • We believe a custodial sentence by itself sets too low a threshold for the loss of such an important right as the right to vote. It relies on imprisonment being seen as automatic “civic death” and sits at odds with the political commitment to the rehabilitation and reintegration of offenders.
  • Scotland has one the highest rates of imprisonment in western Europe. Applying a  blanket ban therefore sets a lower threshold for losing the vote here than it would in almost all other western European countries. As it is, the most recent review carried out by the UK Cabinet Office revealed that of the 47 Council of Europe countries only five European countries enforce a blanket ban: Armenia, Bulgaria, Estonia, Russia and the UK[1].
  • The blanket ban is not based on a transparent, considered debate about the nature and limits of democracy and the position of prisoners. It dates only from 1969, when it was introduced with minimal scrutiny. There was no legal ban in Scotland on prisoners voting between 1949 and 1969, and before that only one on those convicted of the most serious imprisonable crimes (“outlaws”). It reflects the earlier relationship between voting, and the ownership and confiscation of property.
  • The cross-party joint committee of the UK Houses of Parliament concluded in 2013 that all prisoners serving sentences of 12 months or less should be entitled to vote[2]. This has yet to be taken forward at Westminster.
  • Removing the vote from those serving shorter sentences has particularly arbitrary effects: actual vote loss depends on a combination of the date of sentencing diet, how long has previously been spent on remand, early release and timing of elections, rather than the sentence or offence committed. Also, cases attracting a short-term prison sentence and those receiving a community penalty may be very similar.
  • The Scotland Act compels the Scottish Parliament to ensure that all legislation must be compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). The Scottish Government has previously rejected amendments to two bills that would have extended voting rights to some convicted prisoners, most recently on the basis of lack of competence. However, with competence extended, any future legislation relating to the franchise in the Scottish Parliament which seeks to continue a blanket ban on voting by convicted prisoners would be in breach of the ECHR and therefore its competence open to challenge.

Relevant links:

Howard League Scotland’s submission on the Scottish Independence Referendum (Franchise) Bill:

Howard League Scotland’s submission on the Scottish elections (Reduction of Voting Age) Bill:


Howard League Scotland response to Scottish Government's 2017/18 Programme for Government

We welcome the Scottish Government’s proposal to extend the presumption against short periods of imprisonment to sentences of 12 months or less.

Hand in hand with this proposal, there must now be a significant shift of resources from custody to community-based responses to offending. Sentencers, victims and the wider public need to have confidence that there are credible, properly resourced community-based disposals for those who might otherwise receive a short custodial sentence.

We recognise that electronic monitoring has the potential to add an element of control into community supervision that other measures do not have, and that this may help to reduce the use of imprisonment and the disruptive effects of a custodial sentence, such as loss of housing, employment and the erosion of family relationships. We support the use of electronic monitoring provided that it is integrated with other forms of support and that there is a clear penal rationale for its use.

We also welcome the Government’s intention to advance legislation to raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 8 to 12 years old.

Reform of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 is also welcome and long overdue. Enabling those with convictions to become rehabilitated and reintegrated into society is in everyone’s interests: it improves public safety and reduces reoffending. We look forward to seeing the detail of the bill when it is presented to Parliament.

Reviewing progress on female imprisonment in Scotland

(Press release issued by the Scottish Working Group on Women Offenders)


Campaigners are holding an event at the Scottish Parliament on Thursday 15 June 2017 to review what progress there has been five years on from the publication of the report of the Commission on Women Offenders.

The event, organised by the Scottish Working Group on Women’s Offending (SWGWO), will bring together those who wish to see a reduction in the number of women in prison in Scotland. There will be presentations by Professor Nancy Loucks, Chief Executive of Families Outside, and Dr Margaret Malloch, Reader in Criminology at the University of Stirling. There will also be contributions from women with lived experience of the criminal justice system.

Anne Pinkman, SWGWO Convenor, said:

“There was a great deal of excitement about Dame Elish Angiolini’s report when it was published in April 2012. Five years on, we felt the time was right to take stock and review what progress there has been since then.

“There are fewer women in prison in Scotland today than there were when the report was published. And whilst there have been a number of very welcome developments since the report was published, we are still far from achieving many of the aspirations contained in the report.

“We were disappointed to learn recently that the Cabinet Secretary for Justice will no longer provide an annual update to Parliament on progress in the implementation of the recommendations from the 2012 report. We are concerned that there is a risk that political momentum to drive forward change is slipping away.

“We hope that there will be a lively debate on Thursday evening about how we can all work together to ensure that the ambitions of Dame Elish’s report are achieved in full.”

Lisa Mackenzie, Policy and Public Affairs Adviser to Howard League Scotland, added:

“When the report was published, Dame Elish pointed out that there had been numerous previous reports on the subject of female offending and imprisonment across the UK. Next year sees the twentieth anniversary of the publication of ‘A Safer Way’, a report on female imprisonment in Scotland by the Social Work Services and Prisons Inspectorates for Scotland. That report advocated limiting the female prison population at Cornton Vale to 100 or less by the end of the year 2000.

“We are still a long way from that goal. For example, there are still too many women in prison on remand. Most women who are sent to prison on remand do not go on to receive a custodial sentence and yet even a short spell of period on remand can have catastrophic consequences: the loss of a tenancy, employment and custody of their children.

“Funding for community-based services for women is still often precarious, with providers enjoying little certainty about their resourcing from year to year. Cuts to mainstream services after nine years of the council tax freeze are also likely to have had an impact on the ability of women with complex needs to access the help and support they need.

“The challenge to us all is to find ways of ensuring that what progress there has been to reduce female imprisonment in Scotland does not grind to a halt. There is much more to do.”

Notes to editors:

1.     The report of the Commission on Women Offenders was published on 17 April 2012 and contained 37 recommendations, including the closure of HMP/YOI Cornton Vale.

2.     The Scottish Working Group on Women’s Offending (SWGWO) was established in 2011. Its membership includes individuals and organisations concerned with all aspects of women’s offending in Scotland (

3.     The 1998 report of the Social Work Services and Prisons Inspectorates for Scotland ‘A Safer Way’ proposed limiting the female prison population at Cornton Vale “to 100 or less on a daily basis by the end of the year 2000” (p.53).

4.     On 31 March 2017, there were 357 women in prison in Scotland and 26 on Home Detention Curfew. Of the 357 women in prison, 90 (25%) were there on remand. During 2011/12, the average daily female prison population was 468 (source:

5.     In June 2015, SWGWO wrote to the Cabinet Secretary for Justice setting out a strategy for reducing the size of the female prison population in Scotland: