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Review of Clean Slate legislation needed, says NZLS

20 July 2016

The New Zealand Law Society agrees that the Criminal Records (Clean Slate) Act 2004 should be amended to apply to people who have been sentenced to a custodial sentence of 12 months or less, after twenty years has passed since the date of last sentencing.

Responding to an invitation from Parliament's Justice and Electoral Committee to provide a submission on a petition which requests that change, the Law Society says it also believes there is a need for a more comprehensive review of the Act.

It says the petition, of Eric Knight and 156 others, is consistent with the underlying intent of the legislation.

"Where a person has served a sentence and paid his or her debt to society, the ongoing penalty of discrimination or risk of disclosure of conviction should not continue to haunt the offender, unless there are sound public interest grounds for doing so."

The Law Society notes that the Act does not expunge a conviction, but provides a framework for suppression of existence of the conviction.

At present the Act excludes individuals from being eligible under the clean slate scheme if any custodial sentence has ever been imposed on them.

"In the Law Society's view, this blanket exclusion for any custodial setence makes for a very narrow application of the clean slate scheme and precludes persons ... from moving forward with their lives free of the enduring consequences of a mistake in their youth that they have learned from and not repeated," the submission says.

However, it says if a conviction is for a "specified offence" - sexual offending - the offender should continue not to be eligible for the clean slate scheme, in the interests of public safety.

In support of a broader review of the legislation, the Law Society says it needs to be analysed in light of developments in comparable jurisdictions such as the United Kingdom where the rehabilitation periods for clean slates were substantially reduced in 2014.

In New Zealand there is a standard rehabilitation period of not less than seven consecutive years from the date of last sentencing for the Act to apply.

The Law Society says the limitations on the application of New Zealand's legislation for offences committed while a person is relatively young are a particular concern.

"There is ample evidence regarding young peoples' cognitive development and that full decision-making capability is not reached until the mid-20s," it says.

"However, the Act does not allow young persons to be eligible if a custodial sentence has been imposed (regardless of the length of that sentence)."

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Last updated on the 20th July 2016