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Clean Slate Bill third reading

Clean Slate Bill third reading (read by Associate Justice Minister Rick Barker)

I move, that the Criminal Records (Clean Slate) Bill be now read a third time.

This legislation is designed to allow individuals with less serious convictions who have lived for seven years conviction free to put their past behind them.

The legislation is relatively conservative. The threshold level for less serious convictions is that the convictions never resulted in a sentence of imprisonment.

This is the least arbitrary line of distinguishing convictions that should now be clean slated. Exceptions are made for sexual offending which is not clean slated. The seven-year period was determined by the Select Committee to be a relevant period of having no further convictions on evidence that after this period individuals are generally unlikely to re-offend.

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 adopted such legislation around 30 years ago, and both Australia and Canada, the other legal jurisdictions with which New Zealand usually compares itself have also had this legislation for many years.

It is therefore disappointing that some parties in this House have remained timid or have been politically opportunistic and continue to oppose this legislation. Such a stance is reactionary and lacks a sense of fairness and compassion that I believe most New Zealanders do have on this issue.

The Ministry of Justice estimates that as many as 500,000 New Zealanders will be affected by and gain relief from this Bill.

The largest category of those people have committed some relatively minor offence in their youth and are now totally law-abiding. There are few people in New Zealand who could claim to have led totally blameless lives. Those who have received convictions many years ago, for offences such as shoplifting, have however often continued to be disadvantaged by having convictions on their record. An expert on employment at the University of Waikato management school commented that discrimination against job seekers for past offending is common.

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. In the Committee stages, I read out a letter from a woman who 23 years ago had been convicted of a shoplifting charge.

She wrote: "This has been my one and only breaking of the law and one I regret on a daily basis. It does not go away… No one in my family has any knowledge of this record. My husband would be devastated if he knew and more than likely, should he find out, this would put my 31 year marriage at risk.”

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.

The Bill only conceals criminal records; it does not wipe them. A concealment regime was necessary to ensure that full criminal records can also be made available in special circumstances such as during police investigations or court proceedings, and in relation to sensitive types of employment, such as the care and protection of children or jobs involving national security.

The exceptions to the scheme have been provided to ensure that the integrity of the justice system is maintained, by making criminal records available for police prosecutions and determining appropriate sentences where an individual re-offends. Full records will be provided in certain circumstances to ensure the safety of children and young people in vulnerable situations. And for employment as a judge, member of police, prison or probation officer and roles involving the national security of New Zealand full criminal records will be available.

An additional exception to clause 15 of the Bill was introduced in my Second Supplementary Order Paper. This will enable an individual’s complete criminal record to be considered by the New Zealand Police when determining whether they are a fit and proper person to obtain a firearms licence or additional licence endorsement.

Some of the criticism by opposition members of this piece of legislation has been that it is requiring individuals to lie. It is 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.

It will still be lawful to ask someone to consent to the disclosure of their criminal record by the Ministry of Justice or the Police but if the person has a clean slate, no convictions will be revealed.

In order to provide some safeguards to the individual there are two offences created in the legislation. It will be an offence to request or require that an individual disregard the clean slate scheme when answering questions about their record or authorising the release of their criminal record by either the Ministry of Justice or the New Zealand Police. It will also be an offence for a person with access to criminal records to unlawfully disclose an individual’s criminal record that is required to be concealed. My first Supplementary Order Paper provides an additional offence provision in relation to people who breach of the prohibition on publication of an individual’s identifying details following an application to disregard a conviction, as well as making minor technical and drafting amendments.

The Bill will come into force on a date to be appointed by Order in Council. Delayed commencement is necessary due to the work that must be done by the Ministry of Justice and the New Zealand Police to implement this legislation, both in respect of the information technology and day-to-day work practices. Following enactment system design will be finalised and development of the IT system will commence. The IT and business implementation of the legislation is expected to be completed to allow for commencement before the end of the year.

The legislation places requirements on individuals, employers and other people who routinely ask questions about an individual’s criminal record. Prior to the commencement of the legislation the Ministry of Justice will develop a public information strategy to increase awareness of the effect of the legislation.

The real significance of this legislation however will be for those individuals who can put behind them mistakes they have made in the past and get on with their lives.

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.

I commend the Bill to the House.

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