COVID-19 - Criminal justice at the coalface
We’ve all been there - it’s late at night, you’re tired, you’re travelling home on the train, talking on the phone, you’re multi-tasking and online shopping - you see an item which looks so appealing. It’s easy you press the one click shopping button and it’s yours! Days later your item arrives and it’s not quite how you remember it looking; the colour is not quite right, the size is wrong, it just isn’t right or you’ve changed your mind. It’s ok though because you can send it back.
Making purchases and conducting business online is so common place now that we very often don’t think about the decisions or the choices that we make. Fortunately, most commonly the decisions that we are making do not have serious repercussions for our lives. However, under the Prisons and Courts Bill introduced by this Government that is about to change, you will now be able to plead guilty to certain specified criminal offences online. One stop online justice: do not enter a courtroom, plead guilty and pay the fine set out in law, click and collect a criminal conviction.
What this proposal fails to recognise is that a criminal conviction can have serious repercussions for individuals for the rest of their lives. There are a number of circumstances in which an individual will have to disclose the fact that they have a conviction: convictions can impact employment, travel, volunteering and obtaining places on certain academic courses. Some professionals have ongoing professional duties to disclose convictions particularly for offences where dishonesty is alleged. Many employment contracts contain clauses about such disclosures and when they should be made.
At the moment it is intended that this process will only be used for the following offences:
It is clearly anticipated that this scheme will be expanded as these are described as being specified in the “first piece of secondary legislation under these powers”.
We are assured that warnings will be given about the possible consequences of accepting a conviction in this way but is it realistic to expect people to properly read them or take them on board? The importance of properly communicating with a court or obtaining legal advice prior to entering a guilty should not be under estimated.
One quick click – that summons, a pending criminal prosecution, goes away, it’s been dealt with and can be forgotten about. But wait – what about your good name? If asked you can no longer say that you are a person of good character; you will have to disclose your conviction for certain types of employment; you may not be able to travel to your favourite holiday destination.
With just one click you have lost far more than just the money you pay for the fine. You have a criminal record.
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