A matter of Conviction

Today Bob Ashford has stood down as Labour PCC candidate for Avon and Somerset, having achieved some clarity on the fact that convictions dating from his youth 46 years ago will disqualify him from standing for the office. These were, by the way, convictions that resulted in a total fine of around £5. He tells his side of the story here.

I first raised the issue of candidates with previous convictions on 29 April, and again on 9 June, when an Independent candidate in Lancashire withdrew, and I repeated the rules then, making clear that they applied to juvenile convictions where people had not necessarily gone to prison, but where an adult convicted of a similar offence could have.

On 18 June Michael Crick joined in, mentioning the difficulties Simon Weston was having around a teenage conviction. This led to a statement from Theresa May that the law in question was not targetted at people like Simon Weston.

On 24 June Keiron Mallon withdrew from the Thames Valley Conservative selection because of a previous conviction, and it was very clear he had highlighted the conviction in the applications process without anyone spotting the problem.

On 28 June Michael Crick reported that the Home Office and Attorney General were briefing that Simon Weston wouldn’t have a problem with his teenage conviction, and on the same day solicitor and election law expert Ros Baston advised that she thought they were wrong about that and, embarassingly for the Home Office, pointed to the record of the Policing Minister explaining to the Common’s committee as to how it would catch such convictions when the legislation was being considered.

On 29 June I again mentioned this, and a week or so later, after the fuss about his conviction had died down, Simon Weston withdrew from the race, citing not his conviction, but that the race had become too political. Some were perhaps unconvinced, as Michael Crick opting to take the line wasn’t he barred anyway?

Ros Baston reported back on 10 July that the Home Office and Electoral Commission were saying they agreed with her (and my, and everybody else’s) interpretation that the law covered juvenile offences, and this is the article that Bob Ashford cites as causing him concern, leading him to contact the Labour party on 19 July to seek clarification. This was over a month after the Labour selection results had been announced, but it should be remembered that the issue was raised on this site before the Labour selection was completed, and that the law (which, despite the confusion, is pretty clear) was passed months before the parties began their selection processes. And here we are at 8th August with Bob Ashford pulling out, and I have to say I would not be surprised if there were more to follow.

Any candidates who may be disqualified but who are putting off this issue are depriving other candidates a fair hearing and preventing the electorate from giving proper consideration to the choice they have to make. I would urge parties, media, and the public to ask candidates to each make a statement that they have considered this issue and are not disqualified, or we may find time and effort being wasted on candidates who cannot stand. I am offering to maintain a list of candidates on this site who have made such a declaration. This is not a Criminal Records check – this is a chance to show you have considered the issue and that you are clearly qualified to stand.

Meanwhile, there have been other developments. I had a concern that the system would run on trust, with candidates risking further convictions by declaring they were not disqualified and no checks being done on this. Ros Baston’s reading of a new draft Order related to the election that has since been released is that if it is approved cops will be in a position to check candidate’s criminal records, though it is not clear that it will be anyone’s job so to do.

Questions that arise

Others will complain at the severity of the disqualifications, impacting on people decades later for minor wrongs committed in their childhoods. I need not cover these issues here, but other questions remain:-

1. Can any of the candidates read? It is shocking to me that you would stand for election for a new post such as this and not personally read the legislation that sets it up. If you are not able to understand it yourself, should you be standing? If you don’t understand the rules for candidates being qualified should you be selecting them? Both the selection processes of Conservatives and Labour have failed in this respect. Some confusion was introduced by the Government in June, but the issue predates the confusion and the confusion was never credible.

2. How will Labour choose a new candidate? Will it fall to the runner-up, John Savage, who is now the only remaining shortlisted candidate?

3. Why did the Home Office make such a fudge of the issue around Simon Weston’s conviction/disqualification, when they clearly knew that such convictions would disqualify those who offended as juveniles?

4. Which candidate will be next to go?

You can email me a declaration about your status at Editor@TopOfTheCops.com

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15 Responses to A matter of Conviction

  1. Your voluntary register is a great idea, Sam.
    I confirm I have considered this aspect of the eligibility criteria and that I am not disqualified from standing on the grounds of any conviction, either as an adult or juvenile.

  2. I am happy to state that I have not received a conviction barring me to stand.

  3. ianchisnall says:

    Thanks for this Sam, I can confirm that I have not been convicted of any imprisonable offences. I would be willing to submit myself to a CRB or similar police check by a central agency such as the Home Office or other agency and would urge that to take place.
    I would point out that legislators are (IMO) responsible for making laws clear and transparent and easy to understand. Imprisonable offences as you have commented before are not necessarily as clear as they could be – it is a technical distinction in some areas of the law. This should have been tested by the legislators and in my view on this issue they failed and the current situation with Mr Ashford, Simon etc proves that they did not get it right.

  4. Julie Iles says:

    I can confirm that I meet the eligibility criteria. I am a British citizen, resident in the area I wish to represent, I am over 18 and I have never been convicted of an imprisonable offence.

  5. I am also happy to state that, yes I have considered this and do not have a conviction barring me from standing.

  6. Ken Little says:

    I have written a long reply to Sam on this point.

    I also rasised the issue of Magistrates standing as PCC’s I “tapped” Mr Mackinlay Kent PCC candidate on the shoulder about it some time ago, and I wrote to Mr Hooper C E KPA about Mrs Barnes who is also a magistrate on the same subject.

    I can post Mr Mackinlay reply but nothing from Mrs Barnes

    Ken Little Prospective PCC candidate.

  7. Ken Little says:

    Sam Top of the cops.
    My understanding is that until a nomination paper goes into Louise with the £5k deposit and is accepted, and confirmed it is at that point you become a PCC candidate.
    Up until that time we are all Prospective candidates.
    On the matter of “convictions” I give you a copy from the Home Office web site-;
    Once a conviction is ‘spent’, the convicted person does not have to reveal it or admit its existence in most circumstances.
    As a job applicant they have no legal obligation to reveal a spent conviction and it is illegal for an employer to ask whether an applicant has any spent convictions.
    The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act (ROA) 1974 applies to England, Scotland and Wales, and is aimed at helping people who have been convicted of a criminal offence and who have not re-offended since.
    Spent convictions
    Convictions that carry a sentence of 30 months imprisonment or less will become spent after a certain period of time. This period is known as a rehabilitation period and varies in length according to the severity of the penalty.
    If the person does not re-offend during this rehabilitation period their conviction becomes ‘spent’. The individual is considered to have put their criminal past behind them and rehabilitated back into society.
    You should not discount someone from a job just because they have a criminal conviction.
    If your business uses CRB checks in the recruitment process, you must have a policy on the recruitment of ex-offenders. This policy must be available if requested as part of the recruitment process.
    An important factor in reducing the rates of re-offending is finding a job. Evidence based on research shows that many offenders who get jobs are reliable and committed employees. Ex-offenders can often be loyal and hard-working, tending to stay with one employer.
    I understand that “new” rules have been made up to cover the PCC election process; I believe those new rules are a breach of Human rights, a right to a life!
    I believe that if the new rules suggest that a person with a spent conviction is unable to continue with his/her application to become a PCC because of the new law regarding the PCC election then it is for that person to challenge that new law with the process of law in and at a Court of Law.
    If a person is “arrested” for a declaration that the authorities believe is a breach of the current legislation, then that person would be entitled to a free defence his/her defence would be.. a right to life under the Human Rights articles.
    The new law cannot sit with the fact that-;
    Conrad Black a Lord in the chambers H of C is paid by the tax payer but is a” convicted fraudster, and convicted of obstruction of justice” and severed time in Prison.
    Lord Taylor claimed his main residence was a house in Oxford, where his step-nephew lived he claimed £11,277 he received a 12 month jail sentence. The bar council banned him from resuming his practice as a barrister.
    Lord Hannigfeld was jailed for 9 months over false accounting of £14,000 for overnight accommodation on most nights he returned home.
    They all retain their seats and maintain a right to life (working life).
    Nelson Mandela was convicted for Treason, and illegal exit from the country, including incitement to strike, later sabotage. He spent 27.5 years in jail.
    Mr Mandela has a spent conviction NO one would deny him his rights to life, and No one would if he was a UK resident object to him applying for any PCC post in the UK.
    The new law is incompatible with the Home Office historic position on spent convictions.
    I hope this helps you and other interested parties who may have a spent conviction if they wish to stand as a PCC then they will need to be prepared to fight for that right.
    Ken Little Prospective Candidate.

  8. Hope I’m not going out on too much of a limb here Sam, but I don’t agree that ‘self-declaration’ is an especially useful idea at present, however newsworthy or amusing Mr Crick thinks the idea of criminal masterminds posing as PCC candidates might be. Let’s leave this sort of thing to the confirmation hearings shall we?!

    I think Simon Weston has been entirely honest, open and transparent in giving his reason for withdrawing – no-one would relish the prospect of engaging in years of political intercourse with a Police & Crime Panel in South Wales dominated by councillors from a single political party. And the 13 year-old minor’s account appears to suggest that it was something of an unfair cop in the first place. Or was it?! How can we possibly tell? I seem to recall you were surprised at a suggestion by another TopOfTheCops contributor a few months back that a very large proportion of the UK population have criminal convictions and are therefore excluded. Anyone with a criminological background would know that having a criminal record has almost become normative in our society. 40% is my working estimate at the moment (could partly explain why confidence in the police has been in the low 60s according to BCS) but I can remember David Farrington suggesting it would be 50% soon – and that was back in the 1980s.

    We are supposed to be engaged in a process leading towards Police Reform, not a witch-hunt to ‘out’ certain individuals. Sure I’d like to know what my opponent in North Wales has been up to in his spare time, but in a democracy it’s the people who are supposed to decide, not a CRB check. The idea of the police vetting PCC candidates is just ridiculous – but I can tell they are already rubbing their hands in glee at the prospect of bringing the first set of charges against a candidate or elected PCC. And in my case they’ve already arranged for neighbouring Cheshire Constabulary to do it! They always get you on expenses in the end. That’s why I won’t be claiming any.

    But let’s widen the net a little further straightaway shall we. Perhaps we should all provide a DNA sample and upload it to your website somehow?! That way we can see who’s actually committed an imprisonable offence not just been convicted of one, and confirm that candidates really are who they say they are. Or why not invite weekly urinalysis results between now and November to prove we’re still clean? (Now there’s a measure I would support!!) What about electronic tagging? Is this beginning to sound like a microcosm of anything … ?!

  9. Pete Levy says:

    Excellent dialogue Sam, especially with input from Ros as well. In the right spirit of this thread I’m also happy to confirm that I meet the eligibility criteria. I am a British citizen, resident in the area I wish to represent, I am over 18 (by some way) and I have never been convicted of an imprisonable offence.

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