Continuing my theme from earlier in the week, I have been thinking further about financial forgiveness. A few days ago, the Charity Commission’s chairman William Shawcross said that he thought that Islamic extremism is a deadly threat to charities in England and Wales, and also that it is “ludicrous” that people with convictions for terrorism or money laundering are not automatically disqualified from setting up charities or becoming trustees. Moreover, he has written to David Cameron to ask for changes to the law.
As you may know, I am a magistrate. And when we are sentencing someone, their list of “previous” (convictions) is always taken into account. But not just as a simple number; the nature of the offence is also pertinent. So someone who has a history of, say, shoplifting but has just pleaded guilty to their first assault will (all other things being equal) get a lighter sentence than someone with a history of shoplifting and assault offences. In other words, as you would expect, if they’ve done something like it before and are just not learning their lesson, the punishment grows stronger. And when we are talking about their “previous”, we categorise them into, for instance, offences of violence, or offences of dishonesty – so someone’s defence lawyer will often say something like this: “I cannot hide my client’s colourful past, Your Worships – but you will see that he has never before been convicted for an offence of a like nature. He has a history of bad temper while in drink, but never before has he robbed a bank. And he loves his mother very much.”
When someone has served their penalty for an offence, the general expectation is that – after a certain period – the record is wiped clean. But there are already (perfectly sensible) exceptions to this: those with convictions for violence against or abuse of young people are barred from working in schools, for example. Looking closer to home, an FCA fact-sheet on “Applications for approval – our approach to adverse disclosures” gives no hard and fast rules but says this: “Occasionally we receive applications for approval to perform a controlled function [such as director, or MLRO] for an individual candidate who has a criminal conviction… We consider several factors when we assess the fitness and propriety of an individual candidate to perform a particular controlled function. The most important considerations include the individual’s honesty, integrity and reputation and to help us assess this, we will look at any criminal convictions. We take all criminal convictions seriously. However, crimes where the individual has acted with dishonesty are of particular concern, even when the convictions are ‘spent’. This is because we must assess whether to approve someone to perform a controlled function(s) relating to other people’s finances. Parliament has recognised this by giving us a specific exemption to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974.” So what do we think? Should someone with a conviction for (let’s be specific here – and it’s my blog and my favourite subject, so there) money laundering be barred automatically from certain jobs? Simply working in a casino, for instance, or only actually managing one? Any job where he will be handling money – and actually physically handling, or overseeing/directing the handling of? Any job at all with an element of trust?