unisa logo

17 June 2020

dopeshutterstock_167480927.jpgA 40-year-old arrest for possession of a small amount of marijuana could prevent even the most accomplished and committed Australian citizens from volunteering for everything from school canteen duty, to serving on charity boards or working for Meals on Wheels.

As hundreds of thousands of baby boomers reach their retirement and have the time, energy and experience to make valuable contributions in the stretched volunteer sector, “crimes” from their past may act as a barrier to participation.

UniSA Adjunct Professor of Law, Rick Sarre says the National Police Check, a prerequisite for many volunteer roles, not only reports a person’s convictions, it even reports findings of guilt where no convictions are recorded.

An example, Prof Sarre says, would be an arrest and plea of guilty in the 1970s for “possession of a controlled substance” (having a small amount of marijuana for personal use) where the penalty was a fine and a good behaviour bond.

“There is no doubt that Police Checks are an important part of the process and help to ensure the safety and protection of minors and the most vulnerable – no one wants volunteers with a shady past to slip through the system,” Prof Sarre says.

“But the current system is eliminating people who have a great deal to contribute, due to the retention of minor offences that were committed in different times and under different community standards.”

Prof Sarre says a decade ago, law reformers in South Australia ensured the State joined other jurisdictions in offering a second chance for offenders who had turned over a new leaf.

“The Spent Convictions Act 2009 (SA) allows for certain convictions (including ‘findings of guilt’) to be excised from a person’s criminal record if there has been no re-offending for 10 consecutive years,” he says.

“After a decade, ‘spent’ convictions do not count for the purposes of calculating subsequent offences, and ‘spent’ findings of guilt do not have to be disclosed when questions are asked about a person’s criminal history.

“But there is an anomaly here – even without a conviction and even though the ‘finding of guilt’ may be for a minor transgression, a person’s misstep remains on their National Police Check for life and their character will still be considered suspect, despite what may be decades of positive and productive of achievements and contributions.”

Prof Sarre says the National Police Check anomaly needs to be rectified immediately.

“We need to ask now why this sort of guilty plea, especially, say, for something that later became an ‘expiable’ offence (akin to a speeding ticket), remains on a national police computer record, available for anyone in Australia who is entitled to request that one’s “disclosable history” be resurrected,” he says.

“The remedy is simple. All minor offences where no conviction was recorded need to be automatically excised from the National Police Check after 10 years.”  

Media contact: Michèle Nardelli phone: +61 418 823 673 or +61 8 8302 0966 email: michele.nardelli@unisa.edu.au


Other articles you may be interested in