Decoding criminal records in the UK

In the UK, a criminal record is technically any conviction in a court of criminal offence. However, many motor vehicle offences are not deemed as crimes for criminal record purposes, since such offences carry fixed penalties and are not considered criminal convictions. Offences that are prosecuted by local authorities are sometimes classified as criminal offences, although they are unlikely to be in the Police National Computer (the “PNC”). Even if an individual has accepted a “police caution” as an alternative to prosecution, this would count as a criminal conviction.

The Criminal Records Bureau standard and enhanced disclosures contain information about convictions, cautions, reprimands, and warnings retained in the PNC and the equivalent systems in Scotland and Northern Ireland. For the purposes of CRB disclosures, a caution, reprimand, or warning that has been entered into the PNC will constitute a criminal record.

Criminal convictions also are labeled as “spent” and “unspent.” A “spent” conviction is removed from public records, meaning that the defendant has served time and passed through a rehabilitation period. Until then, the conviction is “unspent.” Some convictions, such as crimes with a prison sentence of more than 2.5 years, remain “unspent” indefinitely, regardless of the elapsed time. For convicted minors under 18 years of age, the “unspent” period is cut in half.

During the “unspent” time, the conviction must be disclosed when applying for jobs and on other applications. And for certain jobs such as law enforcement, some roles in the financial services sector, prison services, health services, private security, and for work with children, the elderly, and disabled, “spent” convictions also must be disclosed.