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Clean Slate Act to help 500,000 Kiwis

Clean Slate Act to help 500,000 Kiwis

The Criminal Records (Clean Slate) Act comes in to force on Monday, allowing hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders with minor convictions to finally put past mistakes behind them.

The new law allows people convicted of offences that did not result in a sentence of imprisonment, and who meet the criteria, including having gone seven years without any convictions, to have their convictions concealed.

The Ministry of Justice estimates that the Act will help up to 500,000 New Zealanders, the overwhelming majority of whom committed a relatively minor offence in their youth and are now law-abiding citizens.

There are few people in New Zealand who could claim to have led totally blameless lives, yet those convicted many years ago for offences such as shoplifting have often continued to be disadvantaged by having convictions on their record. An employment expert at the University of Waikato has said that discrimination against job seekers for past offending is common.

As Minister of Justice I have received hundreds of letters on this subject. One, for example, was from a grandmother who offended when she was 15. While the offending was minor, she still feels branded as a criminal today. Another came from a man who committed a petty theft when he was 17 and has carried the stigma of a criminal record for 55 years. Others have involved offences such as removing a 'roadworks' sign, which despite being minor, still have to be listed on application forms decades later.

Many of those affected believe they have suffered discrimination in employment, accommodation, applying for hire purchase, arranging insurance, and so on. All of them feel the stigma of being branded a criminal every time they have to disclose their convictions. In these cases, the punishment is disproportionate to the crime.

Since 1986, the Police Diversion scheme has been able to deal with minor offenders without obtaining a conviction. This Act puts people with similar historic convictions in the same situation as those who have benefited from the diversion scheme.

The Act does not require individuals to lie. 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 is still 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.

The Act is not 'soft on crime'. In fact it is fairly conservative in the conditions it sets. Comparable legislation has been operating in countries such as the UK, Canada and in some states in Australia, for up to 30 years, and most of them clean-slate convictions of up to six months' jail.

The non-custodial threshold means that no serious or recidivist offender will be eligible. The seven-year qualifying period is based on statistical evidence that shows that people with minor convictions who have not re-offended after seven years are no more likely to re-offend than those without convictions.

Other criteria require that the individual has paid court-imposed financial penalties and never been indefinitely disqualified from driving.

Anyone convicted of specified offences, such as sexual offences, is not entitled to a clean slate.

The legislation only conceals criminal records; it does not wipe them. Any further conviction, regardless of the sentence, ends entitlement to clean-slate previous convictions until all the criteria are met again, so the Act only rewards those who have permanently changed their behaviour.

Full criminal records can also be made available in special circumstances such as police investigations or court proceedings, and in relation to sensitive types of employment, such as the care of children or jobs involving national security.

Finally, because our legislation cannot bind foreign governments, the Act does not legally excuse New Zealanders from disclosing convictions to overseas authorities.

Clean Slate is automatic - people do not need to apply. Anyone who is unsure if they will qualify can request a copy of their criminal record from the Privacy Assistant of the Ministry of Justice. Information about how this can be done, and about Clean Slate, is available from the Ministry's website www.justice.govt.nz under the 'Information for the Public' section.


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