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  • Are police checks Australia-wide?

    Police checks have permeated the world of work in Australia. Whether you're seeking employment or a professional licence, you will probably require a police check. Police checks are an essential risk mitigation strategy for employers by providing information on an applicant's criminal past. Based on this information, employers can accurately assess candidates' suitability for the role. However, the quality of this decision is based on the comprehensiveness of the check.

    With that said, are police checks Australia-wide? Do police checks cover all Australian States and Territories? Do you have to worry about overseas convictions when performing an Australian Police check? This post explores these questions to inform you about the extent of Australian police checks.

    A nationally coordinated criminal history check (police check) is an Australia-wide check. Below we explore further details of the check.

    But first, what is a police check?

    A police check reveals an applicant's criminal history per the Spent Convictions legislation of the person's state or territory. These criminal offences include criminal convictions and sentences, indictable offences, traffic offences settled in court, finding of guilt, unexpired good behaviour bonds, and other unspent convictions. Criminal histories on a police check are called Disclosable Court Outcomes (DCOs).

    On the other hand, details that will not appear on a police check include diversionary programs, police cautions, restriction/court orders, no finding of guilt, convictions by agencies other than a legal Australian Court and spent convictions.

    Purpose of police checks

    The purpose of a police check can fall into any of the following:

    1. Paid Employment
    2. Most Australian employers now require a police check as part of the background check process. This enables employers to assess an applicant's tendencies for crime and make informed hiring decisions.

    3. Probity
    4. Police checks are a requirement when working in positions of trust like a school board member to protect vulnerable people and organisational assets.

    5. Licencing
    6. Some bodies require a police check before giving you a licence. In many instances, you will also need a police check to obtain a public vehicle driver licence.

    Understanding the police check process

    The Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC) coordinates police checks in Australia. They have access to the police criminal databases across states and territories from which they derive an applicant's criminal history. Hence, it doesn't matter where you applied for a police check. The check will look up your criminal history across Australian States and Territories. This is partly why the Australian police check is called a nationally coordinated criminal history check (NCCHC).

    Hence, to answer the question, police checks are Australia-wide!

    How the ACIC manages Australia-wide police checks

    Do you know that over 5 million police checks are conducted in Australia yearly? Because each check is national, the process can quickly become cumbersome for ACIC to manage alone. Thankfully, the ACIC works with ACIC-accredited agencies and Australian Police Forces to make the police checking service timely, reliable and accessible for Aussies.

    ✓ ACIC-accredited agencies

    ACIC-accredited agencies are independent agencies - like Australian National Character Check - that have access to the national police checking service database. Once the applicant submits their details and identification documents, their details are used to extract their criminal history from the database. The police check certificate details the extracted disclosable court outcomes.


    ✓ Australian Police Forces

    Local police stations across all states and territories can also conduct police checks. Most police stations offer both manual and online checking services. The manual service involves filling out a paper application and submitting the necessary identification documents by mail. The mailing address varies by State or Territory, so do well to check with your territory's police address before you proceed. The online checking service is usually preferred because it is faster.

    How the Spent Convictions Scheme determines what shows up on your police check

    We've established that the NCCHC is an Australian-wide check. However, does this mean that a police check will return the exact result regardless of the state or territory? For the most part, yes. However, there might be some subtle differences. Why? Because the Spent Convictions Scheme dictates an applicant's releasable criminal history. The Spent Convictions Scheme varies subtly from State to Territory.

    Before delving into the specifics, let's explore general information on the Spent Convictions Scheme.

    Why does the Spent Convictions Scheme exist?

    Have you ever wondered why getting a job is difficult for those with a criminal record? This is because employers are usually wary of employing risky individuals, especially when the crime is related to the role. However, some employers can take this practice to an unreasonable extreme. For instance, an employer refusing to employ a person because they stole two bottles of alcohol 20 years ago.

    The Spent Convictions Scheme was implemented to remove certain criminal offences from the disclosable court outcomes after a certain period elapses. That means that after the waiting period, those offences no longer appear on a police check. This waiting period typically varies from state to state, but it is generally ten years for offences committed as an adult and five years for offences committed as a juvenile. However, the only condition in the Spent Convictions Scheme is that you remain crime-free during the waiting period. If not, then the waiting period restarts.

    Not all offences qualify for removal under the Spent Convictions Scheme. Serious violent crimes (like murder and manslaughter) and sexual offences are not eligible under the Spent Convictions Scheme. Hence, those records will appear on police checks for life because protecting vulnerable groups from potentially dangerous individuals is more important. On the other hand, minor offences and convictions with a sentence term of fewer than 30 months can be spent.

    Spent Convictions Scheme by states

    ✓ New South Wales

    The Criminal Records Act 1991 (NSW) governs NSW's Spent Convictions Scheme. It mitigates the effect of an individual's old and relatively minor convictions. The waiting period for adults in NSW is ten consecutive years, while it is three consecutive years for children after the date of conviction.

    ✓ Victoria

    The Victorian parliament created an Act in 2021 called the Spent Convictions Act 2021 (Vic) which allows the elimination of old and less serious offences from police criminal records. The waiting period is ten years for adults and five years for juveniles.

    ✓ Queensland

    The Criminal Law (Rehabilitation of Offenders) Act 1986 (Qld) governs the Spent Convictions Scheme in Queensland. If the conviction was obtained as an adult, a rehabilitation period of 10 years is applicable, while five years is applicable for convictions obtained as a juvenile.

    ✓ Western Australia

    The Spent Convictions Act 1988 (WA) allows clearing convictions for lesser offences from a person's national coordinated criminal history checks in WA.

    ✓ South Australia

    The Spent Convictions Act 2009 (SA) is applicable in SA. Convictions that attract more than 12 months (for adults) or two years (for juvenile) sentence terms are exempted from the Spent Convictions Scheme. A qualification period of 10 years is applicable for adults. It is five years for juveniles.

    ✓ Tasmania

    All Tasmania release police record information is per the Annulled Convictions Act 2003 (Tas). Under the Act, the conviction is annulled after a 5-year crime-free period for juvenile convictions and a 10-year crime-free period for adult convictions.

    Benefits of the Spent Convictions Scheme

    1. Spent convictions are removed from police checks
    2. Once a conviction is spent, it no longer appears on your police check.

    3. Right to silence (no disclosure)
    4. You are under no obligation to reveal spent convictions to an employer or any party unless by a court order.

    5. Most agencies have no access to spent convictions
    6. Once your offences become spent, they become inaccessible to most decision makers. However, special agencies like the police and court can access such information for specific purposes.

    Do police checks include overseas convictions?

    The NCCHC is only Australia-wide, meaning it does not include overseas convictions.

    An overseas criminal record will not affect your Australian police check result as long as:

    • You were not on parole in the country.
    • You don't have pending bail conditions.
    • The record is not a pending arrest warrant or court order requiring your presence.
    • It is not a standing order by a Commonwealth court hindering you from applying for a passport.

    Hence, most people with overseas convictions do not have legal issues in Australia.

    However, in cases where the overseas offence is connected to Australia, it may appear on your police check result. This is particularly true if a Commonwealth court convicted you.

    Because of the limitations of the NCCHC, many employers are now also adopting international police checks. That way, they can assess criminal history across different countries.

    Conclusion

    Police checks are Australia-wide. However, your police check certificate results depend on your state's or territory's Spent Convictions Scheme.

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