Spent or Unspent for Professionals

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When a conviction becomes spent can be one of the most powerful pieces of knowledge a person can have when exiting the criminal justice system. However, it is also one of the most complicated things for a lay person to get a difinitive answer on.

What are the options?

Generally speaking, people talk about two types of conviction:

  • Those that are spent under the  Rehabilitation of Offenders Act
  • Those that are unspent under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act

However, there are two more categories that are essential to understand:

  • Those offences that are disclosed according to rules
  • Those offences that must be disclosed

It is possible to fall into two of these categories at the same time; for example, have a conviction that is spent but must be disclosed.

Information on the various categories can be found on our Spent or Unspent page.

Understanding the difference between the categories has far-reaching consequences in relation to things such as whether or not they can secure a place to live and the amount of money an individual must pay for car insurance.

The whole process is complicated by the absence of a service whose role it is to confirm for individuals the status of their conviction. Without the ability to contact an organisation (Disclosure Scotland would be an ideal organisation for this service), for a difinitive yes/no in relation to whether a person must disclose their criminal conviction in a particular situation, people are often left erring on the side of caution and disclosing things they don't legally have to.

What can I do?

In your role as a professional within the criminal justice system, if, before they leave your service, you can ensure that your service user understands exactly when their conviction will be spent and in what (if any) circumstances they may still need to disclose the conviction, it may make all the difference to their ongoing wellbeing.

A table with examples of appropriate language use
A table showing the notification periods for the various sentence types. Prison sentence of 30 months or more (including life), Indefinite. Order for lifelong restriction, Indefinite. Admission to a hospital subject to a restriction order, Indefinite. Prison sentence of more than 6 months but less than 30 months, 10 years. Prison sentence of 6 months or less, 7 years. Admission to a hospital without a restriction order, 7 years. Community payback order with an offender supervision requirement, The length of the offender supervision requirement. Any other sentence (e.g. a fine or admonition), 5 years.
Last updated:
February 24, 2024


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