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Learning and Teaching Handbook

1.2.6: Admissions Procedures in respect of Undergraduate Applicants with Criminal Convictions

1. Introduction

The University has a responsibility to consider all applications primarily on academic grounds; however, the University also has a duty to ensure the safety and well being of other members of its community.  The task is to reconcile the often conflicting demands of an individual's "right to education", as enshrined in the Human Rights Act, and the right of the University community to live and study a safe environment.

As such, the University has the right to reject candidates if it is deemed necessary in the interests of public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

In addition, if an offer is to be issued, certain conditions may be included which will form an official part of the offer, e.g. that the applicant once registered may not live in or visit University residential accommodation.

The University also has responsibilities to external bodies through whom students may complete aspects of their programmes of study.  These programmes include such areas as Initial Teacher Training and Medicine.  In respect of these programmes the University also aims to work in co-operation with the relevant external bodies to ensure that their requirements in respect of assessment of applicants with criminal convictions are satisfied.

2. The UCAS Application

The UCAS Application contains a question concerning Criminal Convictions; applicants are asked the question "Do you have any relevant criminal convictions?" and if so are required to indicate yes.  Relevant criminal convictions are only those convictions for offences against the person, whether of a violent or sexual nature, and convictions for offences involving unlawfully supplying controlled drugs or substances where the conviction concerns commercial drug dealing or trafficking. Convictions that are spent (as defined by the Rehabilitation of Offenders

Act 1974) are not considered to be relevant and the applicant should not reveal them.

For courses in teaching, health, social work, veterinary medicine, veterinary science or courses involving work with children or vulnerable adults, any criminal convictions, cautions (including verbal cautions), reprimands, final warnings and bind-over orders are exempt from the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 and are therefore considered relevant.

UCAS will not forward any application to an HEI until the applicant has completed this question.

Undergraduate programmes at Durham University, for which an applicant must answer yes, even if their conviction is spent and which are accepting applications for 2008 entry onwards are.:

  • Medicine
  • Primary Teaching
  • BA Sport
  • Foundation programmes to lead to degree programmes in medicine, primary teaching or sport

Serving prisoners are asked to forward their applications via the prison authorities irrespective of who acts as their academic referee. Prison authorities are expected to indicate the suitability of the applicant to undertake a course of study and whether the applicant would be available to commence a course if an offer was made and accepted.  The prison address must be given as the postal address on the form.

Applicants who are convicted of a criminal offence after submitting their application are required to inform UCAS and all the HEIs to which they have applied; they are not required at that stage to disclose the nature of the offence but they are required to disclose the fact that they have been convicted.

3. The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974

The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act (1974) allows convictions which carry all but the severest penalties to be considered 'spent' after a rehabilitation period if the offender is not convicted again during that period.  Under the Act it is not possible to require a person to disclose a spent conviction, and a spent conviction is not a proper ground for discrimination in the University admission process.  People who are subject to the provisions of the Act will almost certainly know when a conviction becomes spent.

The Act does impose certain limitations on the consideration of spent convictions in relation to certain specified professions, offices or employment, e.g. barristers, solicitors, and "any office or employment concerned with the provisions of persons aged under 18...". These exceptions will generally not apply in the case of University students because they are not yet actually employed in the area concerned.  Nonetheless particular care should be taken where there are specific courses which involve students being in close contact with children.

In summary, an applicant is required to reveal:

  • all convictions which are excluded from the Act;
  • all convictions not yet spent. Time limits vary according to the nature of the offence and are reduced by half for persons under 17 years.

Consequently, the University is obliged:

  • if an applicant discloses a criminal conviction which is spent under the provisions of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974, to treat that person for all purposes in law as a person who has not committed or been charged with, prosecuted for or convicted of the offence. Thus an institution must disregard any spent offence in the application process. The only exceptions are courses with implications for child welfare.
  • when considering applications from persons convicted of a criminal offence which is not spent (including cases pending) to decide what weight it is appropriate to attach to a conviction, depending on: the nature of the conviction, what type of programme the person is proposing to follow, whether the person will be going into University accommodation and any other special circumstances relating to the offence. It is something which should be considered carefully on a case-by-case basis but in appropriate circumstances, an institution would be acting properly in refusing to accept an applicant on the grounds of the conviction or other information supplied.

4. Which Applicants need to be checked

There are two categories of student who need to be checked for previous criminal convictions:

  • Applicants who have answered yes to the previous relevant criminal convictions question on their UCAS application; and
  • Applicants who intend to study on a programme which involves activities or leads to a profession which is listed in the Exceptions Order to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974.

All applicants who have answered yes to the previous criminal convictions question in their UCAS application will be contacted by the Student Recruitment and Admissions Office, as described in the procedure laid out below (section 6). 

All applicants who intend to study on a programme which involves activities or leads to a profession which is listed in the Exceptions Order to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 will be contacted by the department to seek an Enhanced Disclosure from the CRB according to the department's own procedures.  Such programmes are listed in section 2 above.

Students who fall into both categories, i.e. those applicants who have answered yes to the previous relevant criminal convictions question in their UCAS application and who intend to study on a programme which involves activities or leads to a profession which is listed in the Exceptions Order to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974, will go through both procedures, i.e. they will first be contacted by the Student Recruitment and Admissions Office and will also subsequently be required to undergo an Enhanced Disclosure from the CRB through their department.

5. Criminal Records Bureau

The Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) was established as a central office through which registered organisations should seek a 'disclosure' on employees' and potential employees' criminal records.  There are three levels of disclosure:

  • Enhanced
  • Standard
  • Basic

For the purposes of the admissions process the only level of disclosure used is the Enhanced disclosure in respect of the programmes listed in section 2 above.  The Enhanced Disclosure is therefore used for all programmes which lead to professions (or involve activities) which are listed in the Exceptions Order to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974.  Such professions and activities include those involving work with children, regular contact with vulnerable adults or the administration of the law.  The Enhanced Disclosure will provide details of all convictions, including spent convictions, and other information which it is necessary for the University to consider in respect of these programmes.

In certain instances it may be necessary for the University to liaise with relevant external bodies, for example Durham County Council in respect of students on ITT programmes with placements in Durham schools.  In all cases were liaison is required with external bodies it is essential that the student's explicit and written permission is obtained before the University can transfer any information.  To transfer information without the explicit permission of the student, in writing, would be a serious breach of the Data Protection Act (1998).

Students who declare a criminal conviction, but who are not intending to study on a programme which falls under the exceptions listed in the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act (1974), are required to submit details of their convictions to the University. The process for considering such written statements is described below.

6. Admissions Procedure for Applicants through UCAS who declare a Criminal Conviction

a) All applications are forwarded by the Student Recruitment and Admissions Office to the department(s) concerned. For those applicants who have declared a criminal conviction (according to the UCAS application) the departmental selector should initial the criminal conviction flag on the DDS and make an academic decision on the application.

b) If the department wishes to make an offer or invite the applicant to interview in line with the University's admissions policy but the applicant has answered yes to the criminal convictions question the application must be returned to the Student Recruitment and Admissions Office before being forwarded to a college. The Student Recruitment and Admissions Office will then write to that applicant and ask for details of their conviction.

c) If the department does not wish to make an offer, the reject decision will be processed through UCAS as normal without the applicant being contacted.

d) In the case of applicants to whom the department wishes to make an offer, the student will then return further details about their conviction(s) to the Director of the Student Recruitment and Admissions Office. At this point students will not be required to go through the Criminal Records Bureau (CRB). However, all students who intend to enter one of the programmes listed in section 2 above will be required to obtain an Enhanced Disclosure from the CRB if they later accept firmly or as an insurance a conditional or unconditional offer.

e) The Director of the Student Recruitment and Admissions Office and the Academic Registrar consider these further details. If the convictions are minor then the application will be allowed to proceed to a college. If the convictions are not minor, or in any cases of doubt, a panel is convened to consider the student's situation. This panel consists of the Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Education (in the Chair), the Academic Registrar, the Deputy Warden (or their nominated representative), the Faculty PVC (or their nominated representative), and the Director of the Student Recruitment and Admissions Office (who is secretary to the meeting), the panel may then recommend either:

  • that an offer should be made without any additional precautions or conditions;
  • that an offer may be made subject to certain restrictions, e.g. prohibition from living in college residential accommodation;
  • that an offer should not be made in the context of the course applied for and the nature of the offence;
  • that further consultation with the department and/or the intended college should be conducted in the light of the applicant's offence(s).

f) The department(s) is then advised of this recommendation and the application forwarded to the first college with details of any precautions or conditions; the college should then issue the offer as normal ensuring that any precaution or condition is included in the text of the offer letter.

g) The department and college may not find out further details of the applicant's offence(s) from the Director of the Student Recruitment and Admissions Office. This is because once the student has been accepted by the Academic Registrar and the Student Recruitment and Admissions Office (or the Panel if convened) the applicant has been accepted as suitable to become a student at the University. Any relevant information will be passed on as part of the applicant's special precautions or conditions (if any). Any information provided by the candidate concerning their offence(s) and conviction(s) may only be used for the purposes of determining an admissions decision and not for any other purpose without the express written consent of the applicant.

7. Admissions Procedure for Applicants to Part-time Undergraduate Programmes who declare a Criminal Conviction

The undergraduate part-time application form contains the same question concerning criminal convictions.  The same procedure is therefore to be adopted in the case of applicants for part-time undergraduate programmes who declare a criminal conviction.

8. Admissions to programmes excepted from the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act (1974)

Those programmes listed in section 2 above which are excepted from the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act (1974) require all applicants to undergo an Enhanced Disclosure from the CRB.

9. The Data Protection Act 1998

The data provided by an applicant must be adequate, relevant and not excessive; neither must the data provided by an applicant be used for any purpose other than admissions.

All data supplied by an applicant will be kept secure in the Student Recruitment and Admissions Office.  This information will be securely destroyed after the candidate has either successfully completed the course applied for or for whatever reason left the University and only re-opened for legal purposes if the University is required to justify its admission decision.