Category Archives: Uncategorized

Thousands of couples in Muslim ‘marriages’ may have no rights (or obligations)

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Image By Linda D, on Flickr

Thousands of couples living in the UK are unmarried in the eyes of the law, even if they genuinely believe they are married.

A review into integration and opportunity in isolated and deprived communities by Dame Louise Casey revealed that there are up to 100,000 sharia marriages in the UK which are conducted by Muslim imams and solemnised at private events. Many of these ‘marriages’ are not recognised under UK laws because they are not registered at the local registry. The report quoted research from Muslim Women’s Network publication, ‘Information and Guidance on Muslim Marriage and Divorce in Britain’ which reveals that over half of the cases dealt with by Birmingham Central Mosque Sharia Council involved couples who were not married under English civil law.

The ‘worryingly high’ number of such relationships leaves the vulnerable party with no rights in the case of a break up. In most cases, that party is the economically dependent wife with a poor command of the English language.

Casey recommends that all marriages, regardless of faith, should be registered so that they are valid unions recognised under British laws. The report also criticised the discriminatory ways by which the Sharia councils operate in the UK and the rising cases of polygamy without getting in the net of law.

The full report can be read here.

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Post-Paris Attacks

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Trafalgar Square with French flag colours on 14th September in show of solidarity with Paris

Ït is the fifth day since ISIS claimed responsibility for the 129 deaths in Paris – in the city that they believe is “the capital of abominations and perversions”. For ISIS, there is no fixed definition of abomination and perversion as for them whatever contradicts in their way of thinking falls in the definition. But what they attacked – a life which respects freedom and celebrates diversity – does have a clear definition in our minds and we all must preserve it while responding to these attacks.

Delhi-based blogger Karuna Ezara Parikh shared a poem on social media which became very popular as it talked about the world, the humanity and ‘everyone’. President Obama rightly called it ‘an attack on all of humanity and the universal values that we share’. German chancellor Merkel has called for a collective response to these attacks as ‘we are all targets, and it affects all of us’. Some however may not agree with this line of thinking, as can be seen in this tweet.

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The problem with Murdock’s theory is that it gives credence to the view propagated by ISIS that the West is anti-Muslim and the theory of human rights advocated here is a sham. It also alienates our possible, natural allies – people who are victims of ISIS rule in their strongholds and surrounding areas. Moreover, It alienates many citizens of other Muslim-dominated countries who aspire to the same common values of democracy and freedom in their countries, which ISIS abhors.

Plsa

Iain Martin has rightly identified in his blog that the victims of Paris attacks were ‘young people at a rock concert, people on the fringes of a football match, [and] diners finishing the week with friends and family’. However, by counting democracy, free speech, free association, the rule of law and prosperity as pillars of only ‘Western civilisation’, Martin takes us on a dangerous road where we forget that the men and women living in Beirut, Baghdad, Islamabad and Palestinian territories enjoy all these activities as much as we do in the West. The only difference is that they have shisha bars and qahwa cafes in place of pubs and clubs. In the end we all enjoy – and ISIS wants to take away our joys.

The Paris Attacks should not make us less freer or less humane. They should be used as an opportunity to find our common ground rather than losing it to the terrorists. They should not be used to close our doors for genuine refugees who are running from our common enemy. They should certainly not be used to give more powers to the authorities without proper checks and meaningful judicial oversight. If we do any of this, we do what the terrorists want us to do.

If we want to win this fight against extremism, we need to celebrate more of what our common enemy hates. We need to prove for ourselves that the human rights and freedoms we attained after years of struggle are strong enough to stand the menace of terrorism. At the same time, we need to use all the resources to promote our shared values and freedoms across the world, rather than shrink them at home. Finally, the only way to win this war is by valuing our friends – the ordinary citizens on the street of Muslim-dominated countries – not alienating them by siding with oppressive regimes they live under.

Consumer Rights Act 2015 – What do you need to know?

22If this doesn’t work, do I get a refund? (© 2015 Zahid Ali Akbar)

An overhaul of the ambiguous and fragmented law relating to consumer protection in the UK was long overdue. The confusion between businesses and consumers with respect to their rights and responsibilities was affecting fair business practices as well as consumer protection.

To remedy the situation, the government implemented a single comprehensive Consumer Rights Act 2015 on 1st October 2015. The aim of this piece of legislation is to reform, modernise and harmonise current consumer protection law on contracting for goods and services. The law also deals with the digital content for the first time. It would be fair to say that the new law swings to favour the consumer when it is not a business itself.

It is the time for all small and big businesses to consider what steps should be taken to proactively rewrite their terms and conditions to incorporate the new consumer protection regime.

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24 hours to save her life

It seems that the British government has not heard of or have already forgotten Raif Badawi who faces 1,000 lashes with a cane, while his wife and children live in exile in Canada in constant fear for the life of their jailed husband and father. Three years ago, Raif Badawi was sentenced to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in jail for allegedly “insulting” Islam. Today, Raja Khouja faces the same threat if deported from the UK.

Raja Khouja, 56, and her husband Mahmoud Alhassan, 67, came to the UK in 2010 for a holiday. They had previously lived in Syria. While they were in the UK, the Syrian conflict escalated. When Raja witnessed women’s rights being denied she spoke out and shared her views online. She has received documented threats of imprisonment, mutilation and death from the Saudi Mutawa (religious police) for speaking out on women’s rights. She has been reportedly branded as an ‘apostate’. Apostasy is a crime in Saudi Arabia.
Stranded in the UK due to the ongoing Syrian conflict, Raja and her husband applied for asylum in the UK but it is claimed that their claim has not been fully considered. Instead the Home Office plans to remove them on Thursday 25 June by Qatar Airlines to Saudi Arabia where Raja will be in extreme danger of state persecution.
Raja has spoken out for a cause and her deportation to Saudi Arabia would be a punishment for her good cause. A last minute campaign is gathering pace calling on the Home Office to stop the removal of Raja – a Syrian women’s rights campaigner, to release her from detention and grant her permission to stay in the UK.
Please sign and support by spreading the word.
UPDATE: Mr Justice Dove and Upper Tribunal Judge Canavan have ordered a stay on the removal of the couple. Thanks for your support.

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A cake is certainly not Christian or Gay. A message is, perhaps.

Photo credit: Pooh Adventures

Why businesses should NOT have the right to refuse to provide services to people they believe could compromise their religious beliefs?

Because businesses do not have a religion!
Yes, like states, businesses and corporations do not have a religion and they should be trading with everyone irrespective of their age, disability, gender reassignment, marital status, pregnancy, race, religion, sex and sexual orientation (collectively called ‘protected characteristics’ as defined by equality legislation in the UK). But if the question is ‘should the businesses have a right to refuse to provide services they believe could compromise their religious beliefs’, the answer could be different.

The debate saw another day in the week just before the Irish Republic overwhelmingly backed same-sex marriage in a referendum, as the judge in Belfast County Court (Northern Ireland) reached a decision in the ‘gay cake’ case. Ashers Bakery, a Christian-run entity refused to make a cake bearing a pro-gay marriage message. The company consistently maintained that the issue for them lay with the message they were asked to produce and not with the customer Mr Lee, who is a gay. In contrast to the case where a B&B refused to book a room for a gay couple, it is arguable that refusing to offer a particular service to everyone (irrespective of their protected characteristics) is not unlawful. However, after hearing the evidence for three days, the District Judge Isobel Brownlie ruled against Ashers on facts and held them to have unlawfully discriminated on the grounds of sexual orientation and political opinion.

The debate around this case has mainly been revolving around the equality-freedom paradigm during which the media hype has made it a politically emotional issue. Supposedly responsible figures like Coleen Nolan and Katie Hopkins have raised the public emotions by making irresponsible comparisons. As in the case of Human Rights Act, there has been a lot of talk on the ‘gay cake’ by laymen while very little has been written in legal terms to give a rounded and in-depth consideration to the judgement itself. This blog reflects upon some legal issues raised in and after the judgement.

The Fair Employment and Treatment (Northern Ireland) Order 1998 [1998 Order]
This anti-discrimination law based on political opinion (and religious belief) is unique to Northern Ireland and it appears that the judge’s findings were inevitable on this point of law. Historically, this piece of legislation was implemented in the context of prevailing issue of people being treated less favourably due to their Unionist or Nationalist views.

Contract Law
If the case was a matter of simple contract law, it would have been a clear-cut case at the end of which Ashers would have lost anyway. Mr Lee made an offer to Ashers to enter into a contract to bake a cake. By accepting Mr Lee’s money, Ashers accepted the contract. After a couple of days, Ashers impliedly breached the contract (through their conduct) by returning the money to Mr Lee indicating that the business had no intention to fulfil the contract. Hence, there was a simple breach of contract for which Ashers would have been held liable.

Analogies used during the hearing
The submissions made to the court were full of interesting analogies and warnings by Mr David Scoffield (representing Ashers) and Robin Allen QC (representing Mr Lee).

David Scoffield presented four examples of hypothetical cases which he thought to be problematic.

“If the plaintiff is right, a Muslim printer could not decline printing a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad. An atheist baker could not decline baking a cake with the slogan God made the world in six days. A gay baker could not decline to make a cake with the message gay sex is an abomination. A Catholic baker could not decline to bake a cake looking for abortion to be legalised,” he said.

Let me add two further possibilities to this list. An anti-democracy campaigner of Hizb-e-Tahrir places an order for making a cake with a slogan ‘voting is polytheism’ and another anti- Human Rights Act activist wants a cake with a message ‘HRA protects criminals’.

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Photo Credit: Fyne Times

The examples quoted by Mr Scoffield have a religious element whereas my two examples are more of a political nature though Hizb-e-Tahrir has always coined it in religious terms. The point that Mr Scoffield (and forgivably many laymen) fail to note is: it is the protected characteristic of the customer that needs protection. The likely questions considered by the judge in such cases would investigate the characteristics of the customer and reasons for demanding the service as well as the reasons for refusing to provide the service asked for.

Mr Allen dealt with two of the examples – a Catholic and a Muslim baker – in the context of contract law. He submitted that these bakers could only refuse the orders for cakes with controversial messages if their terms and conditions were that they refused all such orders as a category. This simple line of reasoning followed under the law of contract would leave us with strange situations where the freedom to contract is restricted.

The judgment on discrimination based on sexual orientation
The judge in Ashers rightly noted that it is the word ‘gay’ to which Ashers took exception. She also rightly pointed out that the bakers gave no consideration to any other measures such as the non – Christian decorator icing the cake or sub-contracting this order. However, Ashers stated in evidence that they would have baked the cake for Mr Lee if the controversial message was not there. They also have at least one gay member of staff in their business. Given this evidence, the judge’s finding that Ashers refused to provide the service due to the sexual orientation is an uneasy one. As convincingly put by Alasdair Henderson, conflating support for an idea (here same-sex marriage) with sexual orientation (here homosexual) misses the point that many heterosexual people support gay marriages and a good number of homosexuals oppose it.

Nevertheless, the judge could have taken a different line of reasoning to find that Ashers discriminated on the basis of sexual orientation. While a business cannot refuse to bake a ‘gay cake’ because the customer was gay but a business can refuse to provide a service in a particular way to produce a particular result if the business does not wish to (for reasons other than discrimination). This line of reasoning would have left the concept of freedom of contract intact and also promoted the anti-discrimination cause. Following this line of reasoning would also have helped a baker in the UK who found himself in a situation similar to one in Denver (USA) where another baker was asked by a customer to write anti-gay phrases on two cakes shaped like Bibles!

If the case of similar nature is heard in England & Wales
As the law stands in Northern Ireland, the four examples quoted by Mr Scoffield will be caught by Order 1998. If a case of printing a cartoon or a pro-abortion message on a cake is heard in the courts of England and Wales, the party affected by refusal to bake such a cake cannot be said to possess a protected characteristic as defined by the equality legislation – political opinions including being pro-cartoon or anti-abortion are not being a protected characteristic under the equality legislation. Hence, it could arguably be possible to reject these orders without been found liable if the underlying reason was not discrimination on the basis of a protected characteristic.

Political fall-out
Ashers may appeal against the decision but what is more alarming is the political attitude toward the issues of fairness and discrimination. DUP – Northern Ireland’s largest political party – MLA Paul Givan has seized upon the controversy and is attempting to introduce a Private Members’ Bill (known as conscience bill) into the Northern Ireland Assembly allowing religious groups and entities like Ashers to refuse to do business with those whose lifestyles they strongly object to. In other words, the proposed law says there should be a ‘right’ to refuse to provide services (and by analogy, to sell goods to people) if the providers believe this could compromise their religious beliefs.

There is a difference between not offering a service (or good) altogether or even in a particular way to everyone in the public (without discrimination) and not offering the same service to a particular group of public. The B&B case was different in the sense that there was a direct discrimination based on the customers’ sexual orientation. The reason why it is so important to ensure that businesses for profit should provide services without discrimination is that we can aim to remove all the probability of leaving one section of the society or another in a situation where they are discriminated against on one of the nine ‘protected characteristics’.

If Givan’s bill finds its way to become law, it would not only deal a serious blow to the anti-discrimination movement but also lead to a slippery slope for others to claim impunity from an obligation to treat fairly and without bias. For example, Muslim organisations and businesses may refuse to trade with non-Muslim or ‘deviated’ Muslim customers quoting their own perceived understanding of selected verses of Koran.

The blogger is a lawyer and a human rights activist. He can be contacted at zaakbarlaw@gmail.com. He tweets from @Zaakbar and @ZaakbarLaw

ARE YOU AN INNOCENT ‘TOEIC VICTIM’?

 

 

 

 

BACKGROUND

It all started with a BBC Panorama programme which uncovered ‘systematic fraud in the student visa system’.

In the months following the programme, the UK Home Office has refused to accept the TOEIC test certificates of many applicants alleging that all those certificates were obtained fraudulently and through deception.

This has led to a standard notification issued to many visa holders in the UK who have submitted TOEIC certificate as evidence of their English language skills as part of the immigration application. The Home Office has curtailed the existing visas of some affected applicants and have issued removed directions with a right of appeal. In some cases, the decisions of the Home Office can only be appealed once the affected applicant has returned to his original country.

It has come as a shock for many of the affected students since their visa has been curtailed without any prior notice or opportunity to challenge the allegation of deception.

 

WHY ARE THESE DECISIONS WRONG?

We are of the opinion that in many cases the Home Office’s decision of curtailing the visa on such grounds is unlawful and unfair. As the charge of deception is a serious one, we believe that every applicant must be given an opportunity to prove their innocence and rebut any such allegations. Alternatively, the Home Office should prove it with concrete evidence that a particular applicant in question used deception to obtain the TOEIC certificate.

 

WHAT CAN WE DO?

Depending on individual circumstances, we have prepared Pre-action protocol for Judicial review and have asked the Home Office to reconsider their decision and get our client an in-country right of appeal. In some cases, the Home Office has responded to our letters and withdrawn their decision and informed us that they will prepare another decision soon for our clients.

 

WHAT CAN YOU DO?

If you are one of the affected ‘TOEIC VICTIM’, you can book a free consultation with us to discuss your case. Remember, leaving such a drastic step by the Home Office unchallenged could harm your future prospects and career.

 

Book an appointment with Mr Akbar by emailing at zaakbarlaw@gmail.com

 

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IMMIGRATION: Ahmed (benefits: proof of receipt; evidence) [2013] UKUT 84(IAC)

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Unimpressed by the current application forms published by the UK Border Agency, the Upper Tribunal advised the Agency to publish entry clearance application forms to include questions designed to elicit the information on calculation reflecting the comparison between the applicant’s and sponsor’s combined projected income if the applicant for entry clearance were in the UK and the amount required to provide the maintenance at an adequate level.

The Upper Tribunal also recommended that the decisions of entry clearance officers include such a calculation to assist the tribunals and the courts in entry clearance cases.

The decision focused on the interpretation of paras 6A to 6C of the Immigration Rules which deal with recourse to public funds in immigration applications.

6A … a person (P) is not to be regarded as having… recourse to public funds because P is … reliant in whole or in part on public funds provided to P’s sponsor unless, as a result of P’s presence in the United Kingdom, the sponsor is … entitled to increased or additional public funds.

6B … a person (P) shall not be regarded as having recourse to public funds if P is entitled to benefits specified under section 115 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999.

6C       A person (P) making an application from outside the United Kingdom will be regarded as having recourse to public funds where P relies upon the future entitlement to any public funds that would be payable to P or to P’s sponsor as a result of P’s presence in the United Kingdom

The Upper Tribunal read 6A as saying that all that counts as recourse to public funds is increased benefit as a result of P’s presence and even that does not count if it arises as the result of the matters referred to in para 6B. 6C applies to applications made outside the UK and does not allow increases in benefit under the provisions.

For maintenance purposes, the formula used in the entry clearance applications remains:

A – B ≥ C

A minus B is greater than, or equal to, C

where:

A is the projected income

B what needs to be spent on accommodation and

C the income support (or equivalent) figure (which we term in this decision “the benefit threshold”)

The Home Secretary introduced new Immigration Rules to take effect in relation to applications made on or after 9 July 2012.  Under the new rules, for some categories of applicant, in assessing maintenance a number of the sources of income such as child benefit, working tax credit and child tax credit, will no longer be eligible to be taken into account.  However, for other categories the maintenance requirements are unchanged.  This decision will also apply in the process of determining applications lodged before 9 July 2012 and appeals in relation to them.

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New National Minimum Wages

The new rates for the national minimum wages are as follows:

1 October 2011 to
30 September 2012
1 October 2012 to 
30 September 2013 
Standard Adult Hourly Rate(workers aged 21 and over) £6.08 £6.19
Development Hourly Rate(workers aged between 18 and 20 inclusive) £4.98 £4.98
Young Workers Hourly Rate(workers aged under 18 but above the compulsory school age who are not apprentices) £3.68 £3.68
Apprentices Hourly Rate £2.60 £2.65
Accommodation Daily Offset £4.73 £4.82

 

For a comparison between the national minimum wages in the UK and other countries, see

http://www.guardian.co.uk/money/2012/oct/26/how-good-britain-minimum-wage?CMP=twt_gu

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances. 

 

For more updates, http://www.facebook.com/zaakbarlaw

The writer is a human rights lawyer

You can visit www.facebook.com/zaakbaarlaw for updates on this and other matters.

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The revocation of London Metropolitan University’s license to sponsor students from outside the EU has sent shock waves across the education sector as well as thousands of international students studying in other UK universities.

The Home Office said that the attendance at the university in question was not monitored to the standards required by the UK Border Agency (UKBA) and many students were not attending the classes according to the results of the sample taken. The Home Office further noted that many students do not have a right to be in the UK and speak little or poor English.

Interestingly, the university has not challenged the observations of the Home Office. All it has challenged, so far, is the proportionality of the penalty they face – revocation of the sponsor license.

The immigration lawyers and pressure groups have been warning against the implications of the student visa / sponsorship rules since their inception. It is indeed the first university to have been stripped off its ability to sponsor students from outside the EU. However, many colleges have fallen victim of the UKBA sponsorship rules which all of a sudden are viewed as ‘strict’ and condemned as damning for economy in leading newspaper articles. The economic and psychological impact on students from those other colleges was no different from those affected by the latest revocation.

The hue and cry splashed across the national media seems to be flowing from the concern for profit-making rather than the suffering of international students. The government seems to be targetting international students after failing to achieve their promised lowering of net migration figures. From universities’ point of view, its a worrying situation since no one knows who could be the next target despite assurances from the ministers that this is not a general problem of the entire sector but only limited to one university. But indeed the predicament of London Metropolitan University could potentially be the future of any other university. And above all, the recent revocation has sent a message across the world that its not just the colleges – even universities could become victim of the UKBA rules.

The rules themselves are also unfair and discouraging. The affected third year students in their final semesters, for example, have nowhere to go to complete their degree courses. They have only two options remaining: either find a new university and redo the whole third year again (which is an economic uphill struggle besides a psychological disaster) or voluntarily return to their home countries without obtaining their degrees! The failure of a university to abide by the UKBA rules should be dealt with between the university and the UKBA but the present rules penalise the students much more the universities since they lose their dreams.

The latest application of the rules has already damaged the UK brand of higher education. The government should repeal the current set of sponsorship rules and replace them with those which focus on penalising the failed universities rather than students who are neither fully aware of the laws nor the operations of the university. Punishing genuine, law abiding students for the shortfall of university and immigration offences of a small proportion of students is not just against the principles of natural justice but also ethically abhorrent.

The writer is a human rights lawyer

You can visit www.facebook.com/zaakbaarlaw for updates on this and other matters.

The revocation …

Spent and Unspent Criminal Convictions and the Rehabilitation Period

 

A criminal conviction becomes spent after a specific period of time after the conviction took place, providing no more convictions were made during this time. This period of time is known as the rehabilitation period, and the length of this will depend on your sentence. Any further offences made in this time may result in the lengthening of the original rehabilitation period. The rehabilitation period starts from the date of conviction and may be shorter if the applicant was under the age of 18 on the date of their conviction. Once a criminal conviction is spent it will not usually be taken into account during the assessment of an applicant’s good character.

Unspent criminal convictions include offences such as drink-driving offences, road traffic offences, but does not include fixed penalty notices (such as speeding or parking tickets), providing they were not given in court.

Unspent criminal convictions WILL be looked into during the assessment of an applicant’s good character. Applicants MUST provide details of all unspent criminal convictions on their application, but do not need to provide details of any spent convictions, if they become or were spent at the time of application.

Applicants must declare any offences for which they may have to go to court or are waiting on a hearing in court. This includes the applicant being arrested and waiting to find out if they have been charged formally.

Applicants living in Scotland must declare any civil penalties which are recent.

Applicants MUST inform the UKBA if they have been arrested or charged with an offence after submitting the application.

An unspent criminal conviction is likely to result in the refusal of an application; therefore applicants are advised to apply after their conviction has become spent.

A prison sentence of over 30 months for one offence can never become spent and it is likely that applications will be refused.

WHEN DOES A CONVICTION BECOME ‘SPENT’?

How a conviction becomes ‘spent’ under the ROA is dictated by the sentence given for the offence, and the rehabilitation time that applies to that offence sentence. The principles apply to convictions in a criminal court, findings in a juvenile court, certain offences in service disciplinary proceedings and hospital orders under the Mental Health Act 1983.

The rehabilitation period (the time required before the conviction is spent) will be dependent on the length of the sentence and its nature, regardless of whether it is a fine, a surcharge order, term of imprisonment, absolute or conditional discharge or probation.

Unless stated otherwise, the rehabilitation period starts from the conviction date and usually is conditional on compliance with the sentence.

 

Reference: mulberryfinch.com

 

Rehabilitation Periods

  • Imprisonment of more than two and a half years = Never
  • Imprisonment of more than six months but less than two and a half years = Ten years
  • Corrective training for more than six months but less than two and a half years = Ten years
  • Youth custody for more than six months but less than two and a half years = Ten years
  • Dismissal from HM service = Ten years
  • Prison for six months or less = Seven years
  • A sentence of Borstal training = Seven years
  • Sentence of imprisonment/detention in YOI for six months or less = Seven years
  • The majority of fines = Five years
  • Detention in respect of conviction in service disciplinary proceedings = Five years
  • Sentence of young offender detention for over six months but not more than two and a half years = Five years
  • Probation or community order (eighteen years or older) = Five years
  • Probation or community order (under eighteen) = Either two and a half years from conviction, or until the order ceases to have effect. Whichever of the two is the longer.
  • Hospital order under the Mental Health Act 1983 = Either five years, or two years after order ceases to have effect, whichever of the two is the longer.
  • Sentence of young offender detention for not more than six months = Three years
  • Conditional discharge, binding over, supervision order or reception order = Either one year after making of order, or one year after the order ends, whichever of the two is the longer.
  • Absolute discharge = Six months
  • Disqualification = The period of disqualification
  • Cautions, reprimands and warnings = Considered spent as soon as they are issued
  • Conditional cautions = Considered spent as soon as the conditions end.

Excluded Sentences

Convictions resulting in the following sentences will never be spent:

  • Imprisonment for life
  • Preventative detention
  • Imprisonment or detention for public protection, or an extended sentence under the Criminal Justice Act
  • Imprisonment, detention in corrective training or in young offender institution, for a term of more than two and a half year
  • Detention during Her Majesty’s pleasure or for life, or a sentence of custody for life
  • Particular military and court martial punishments
  • Detention for more than two and a half years for a youth convicted of a grave crime.

Reference: http://www.lawontheweb.co.uk