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Half a million to benefit from Clean Slate

Half a million to benefit from Clean Slate

Half a million New Zealanders with minor convictions who have not re-offended for seven years can now put their past behind them following today's passage of the Criminal Records (Clean Slate) Bill, says Justice Minister Phil Goff.

Mr Goff said the legislation allowed people to conceal convictions that did not result in a sentence of imprisonment, once they had gone seven years without any further conviction. Sexual offending cannot be clean-slated, however.

"The Ministry of Justice estimates that as many as 500,000 New Zealanders will gain relief from this Bill. The majority of those people committed some relatively minor offence in their youth and are now totally law-abiding," Mr Goff said.

"New Zealand has been slow to adopt legislation that allows people to get on with their lives without being disadvantaged by historic convictions. The United Kingdom did so 30 years ago, and both Australia and Canada have had it for many years.

"There are few people who can claim to have led totally blameless lives. Those who were convicted many years ago for offences such as shoplifting have, however, often continued to be disadvantaged by those convictions.

"I had a telephone call to my office last week from a man who has just returned from Australia, who was convicted of a minor offence when he was young. In Australia, by law, he did not have to disclose this. In New Zealand he still has to, and it has been an obstacle for him in his search for work.

"Having to disclose, or fearing that offending committed many years ago will be disclosed, has a powerful psychological effect for many people. For example I have a letter from a woman who was convicted of shoplifting 23 years ago, who still regrets it on a daily basis, and is too scared to even tell her family.

"This fear is typical of perhaps hundreds of letters I have received on this topic. It is time we allowed people in this situation to bury their past. Convictions for minor offending should not be a life sentence.

"Critics of the legislation say it requires individuals to lie. It does not. It simply allows a great many ordinary, and now law-abiding, New Zealanders who have long suffered unnecessary anxiety about past mistakes to no longer have old and minor criminal convictions revealed. "By concealing, rather than wiping convictions, full criminal records can still be made available during police investigations or court proceedings; when applying for a firearms licence, or for sensitive types of employment, such as the care and protection of children or national security such as judges, police, prison or probation work.

"It will still be lawful to ask someone to consent to their criminal record being disclosed, but if the person has a clean slate, no convictions will be revealed. Legislative safeguards will make it an offence for someone to require an individual to reveal clean-slated convictions, or for a person with access to criminal records to unlawfully disclose someone's concealed conviction.

"When enacted, the only challenge that people in future will raise about the legislation is why we took so long in this country to join other countries in introducing it," Mr Goff said.

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