From midnight Sunday, hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders with a criminal past will be able to officially deny it.
That is when the so-called clean slate act comes into force. [...] To qualify offenders need to have stayed out of trouble for at least seven years, and it only applies if the offence did not result in a prison term.
There are exceptions to the law: police, prison officers, judges and childcare workers will still have to come clean. [...] Act MP Stephen Franks is opposed to the change. He says people are being instructed to lie, and that employers now fact a $10,000 fine if they try to find out about a person's criminal history.
Franks also thinks the law will promote discrimination.
"Young Maori are four times more likely to have an offence. An employer won't just accept that they're not allowed to ask, they'll use stereotypes."
But Green MP Nandor Tanczos says people feel inhibited by their previous convictions and have been actively discriminated against because of them.
Do we really want to use the word "discrimination" to describe judging others based on their own past actions? People might get the impression that discrimination isn't such a bad thing after all.
I have to agree with David Farrar:
I have some sympathy for the problems an old and minor conviction can cause people, but I think the vast majority of people and employers will look on old convictions in their context and judge accordingly. This law removes the right of people to be told the truth and encourages lying.
He goes on to suggest that someone could start up an internet database to circumvent this law. But if Franks is right that employers face a $10000 fine "if they try to find out about a person's criminal history", then presumably checking the database for a job applicant's name would count as an offence here. (Unless "find out" in that context is restricted to asking people directly; perhaps external research is permitted?)
I hope that most employers would be reasonable in their assessments of old convictions. But it is possible that they often are not, and that the stigma of a criminal record is unfairly impeding the lives of good people who made some minor mistakes many years ago. If that is indeed the case, would this new legislation be justified?
Even then, I'm not convinced. Call me old-fashioned, but I really don't like the idea of our government encouraging people to lie. Honesty should be recognised as an important civic virtue, and treated as such (i.e. encouraged) by our officials. There must be better answers to the 'stigma' problem.
One option would be to wipe those criminal records altogether. That would seem especially sensible for people with but a single conviction for some trivial offence in their distant past. If they deserve it, then give them a real "clean slate", don't tell them to lie about it. (And if they don't deserve it, then why shouldn't potential employers know about that?)
Alternatively, one could try to overcome the stigma by way of a public education campaign. (It's worked wonders for mental illness, after all. "Know me before you judge me," and all that.) Trot out ex-"criminals" made good, like that Shaw fellow mentioned in the article. If you highlight just how trivial some convictions are, then employers might become less likely to jump to conclusions when hearing that an applicant has a record. If you can show that even people with more serious criminal records can turn their lives around and become trustworthy citizens, then that'd help too.
Let employers make informed decisions. If you don't trust them to do that, then educate them so that they (more likely) will. But enforcing ignorance and encouraging deceit? Not in any society I want to live in, thankyou very much.