Ignoring spent convictions when you need to

This case relates to a large university and the appointment of a fixed term research assistant.

The programme lead of this particular project interviewed a gentleman who she stated ‘could not be more ideally suited for the post’. He had the necessary skills and experience and was himself in recovery from an alcohol problem. With the approval of her line manager, the decision was taken to appoint him.

To enable him to be added to the finance system, he was asked to complete one of the university’s standard application forms which had a question which referred to criminal convictions. Despite his conviction being spent under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act (ROA), the applicant voluntarily disclosed that he had been convicted of a sexual offence. When the programme lead asked him for further information about this, he explained that he had been very drunk at the time and was deeply, deeply ashamed of his action.  In fact, this event had been the start of his recovery. Listening to what he said, the programme lead did not believe that this affected his employment in any way.

However, once his completed application form had been reviewed by the university’s HR department, the programme lead was advised that he should not be appointed due to

  1. The potential reputational damage to the university and
  2. The university’s duty of care towards its staff and students.

The HR department advised that the only way forward would be to hold a safeguarding panel meeting with this gentleman where his potential employment could be discussed.

It was at this point that the programme lead contacted us for advice.  She felt that although this gentleman had disclosed his conviction, there had been no legal obligation for him to do so and as such, this should not be taken into consideration in any recruitment decision.

The programme lead provided us with a copy of the job description and asked whether, in our opinion, the role was covered by the ROA and, whether a safeguarding panel meeting should go ahead.

Having reviewed the job description, we confirmed that, in our opinion, the role would be covered by the ROA and the applicant concerned would only have needed to disclose unspent convictions. Legally, spent convictions should not be taken into consideration for these types of roles and, even though the applicant had disclosed them voluntarily, the university should have ignored them.

We also advised that a safeguarding panel which was set up with the sole purpose of discussing a spent conviction in this situation is unnecessary and raises legal issues.

We were contacted several weeks later by the programme lead who told us that the information and advice we had provided had given her the confidence to argue her case more forcibly and very successfully with the relevant departments in the university. She stated that Unlock had proved to be an important source of advice for her and her colleagues and that she would be using the ‘Principles of Fair Chance Recruitment’ to guide her practice and to make further recommendations to her HR department.


When an applicant provides too much information, it’s important that employers know how to deal with this information.


Notes about this case study

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