Fraud, assault and bestiality hidden from employers

More than 115,000 New Zealand criminals have been allowed to hide convictions including fraud, bestiality, and indecent assault from prospective employers under a law that came in a decade ago.

The Clean Slate Act allows people with less serious convictions to have them concealed if they have been conviction-free for seven years and meet other criteria.

More than 115,000 people have had their criminal record clean slated since the act came into force in November 2004.

Among the convictions concealed were assault on a child with a weapon, drink driving causing death, burglary, and indecent assault.

Convictions for tax fraud, bestiality, and stabbing were also hidden.

One Auckland criminal had the luxury of concealing their former crimes, despite having racked up a staggering 232 convictions -- the highest number concealed under the act.

To be eligible for a clean slate, someone must have been conviction-free for the last seven years, never received a custodial sentence, and not be convicted of a "specified offence".

Specified crimes include sexual offending against children and the mentally impaired, and can never be concealed.

Business New Zealand chief executive Phil O'Reilly said employers should always be able to see applicant's history.

"If you've had a dishonesty offence ... and a small retailer is going to employ you behind the cash till, that's directly relevant, whether it's one or 282," he said.

"For many small businesses that's their income, it's them and their house and the wellbeing of their family that's at stake."

However, Pathways Trust reintegration manager Carey Ewing said the clean slate law allowed former criminals to put their mistakes behind them.

"New Zealand can be a particularly unforgiving environment ... [and] I don't think any of us would like to live a life where we were solely judged upon the mistakes we made in the past."

Exaggerated media coverage of criminal offending had helped fuel Kiwis' beliefs that people didn't change and the longer offenders went to prison, the better.

A clean slate gave someone opportunities that public opinion would not, he said.

The clean slate process is automatic, but only applied when a criminal history request is made to the Criminal Records Unit -- which processes about 450,000 requests a year.

While clean slate histories are hidden from most employers making an enquiry about a criminal record, convictions are still disclosed in applications for jobs as police, judges, and roles involving the care of children.

Criminal histories are also visible to law enforcement agencies.

Because New Zealand legislation doesn't bind foreign governments, convictions are also visible to overseas immigration authorities.

By the numbers

Number of eligible people for whom an application for criminal conviction information has been clean slated since November 2004: 115,079

Clean slate recipient with largest number of convictions: 282 (Auckland)

Source: Ministry of Justice

- By Cassandra Mason of APNZ

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