The General Medical Council decides if, when they are convicted of a crime, a doctor in the United Kingdom should be allowed to continue in their employment. This article is the first to detail these decisions for the period 2005–15. No doctor was barred from practising medicine for serious violent and sex offences, including rape, possession of images of child sexual abuse, manslaughter and domestic violence. These findings are placed in the context of contemporary developments in criminal record reform and criminological analysis of the relationship between employment and desistance. It is concluded that the high degree of devolved discretion allowed to elite professional occupations must be subjected to further critical scrutiny and policy reform.Chamberlain goes on to state
It has been argued that much of contemporary ‘crime talk’ is dominated by highly punitive and frequently short-sighted populist crime discourses, which prioritize economic prosperity and security over human rights and social equality (Carlen 2010). A preoccupation with public protection has certainly become a ubiquitous feature of the modern governmental crime control project (e.g. see Frost 2006; Simon 2007; Wacquant 2009; Barry et al. 2013; Farrall et al. 2016). Two key penological trends are bound up with this state of affairs (Simon 2007; Garland 2012; 2013). First is the emergence of systems of punishment within western neoliberal nation-states, which rely heavily on mass penal incarceration and increased community-based sentencing, arguably without adequate consideration of the negative consequences for long-term social cohesion and equality of opportunity (Maruna 2011; Wacquant 2011; Jacobs 2015).
Second is the proactive promotion by law enforcement agencies of risk identification and management technologies and strategies, targeted at identifying and managing possible future threats to public safety (Barry et al. 2013; Mythen 2014). This, in turn, has led to a growing emphasis on maximizing crime detection and prevention data resources, including the development of CCTV and surveillance technologies, ‘Big Data’, artificial intelligence and predictive policing techniques (McCulloch and Wilson 2015; Chan and Moses 2016; Williams et al. 2016). Within this context, politicians and criminal justice service leaders, particularly the police, have argued that electronic criminal record databases, including DNA databases, are important crime prevention measures for ensuring the security of all and the personal safety of the most vulnerable (Brame et al. 2015; Uggen 2016).
Focusing on the second of these international trends, this article critically examines for the first time data pertaining to doctors in the United Kingdom who possess a criminal record. In doing so, it contributes to contemporary criminological debate surrounding the role of criminal records in promoting public safety. There are an estimated 10 and a half million people who possess a criminal record in the United Kingdom, which is 16 per cent of the current 64 million population (Unlock 2015). One government study for England and Wales revealed that 33 per cent of males born in 1953 had a conviction for at least one offence by the age of 53, that in 50 per cent of cases they had offended just once and that in 85 per cent of cases the offence had occurred before they were 30 years old (Ministry of Justice Statistics Bulletin 2010). It has been argued, as a result, that it is not only a matter of public safety to ensure that ex-offenders have job opportunities, it is also critical to a successful economy and the promotion of civil society (Hubbard 2014). However, in common with many other countries, ex-offenders in the United Kingdom find it difficult to find paid employment or access to training and educational opportunities.
A key reason why this is the case, is that under the criminal records system relatively minor offences, such as theft, frequently engender the same social stigma and civic bars as their more serious counterparts (Rukus et al. 2016). Disbarring candidates from entry into certain workplaces or education and training, regardless of their age, the time expired since an offence or the offence type, has been increasingly subject to academic and public scrutiny in the United Kingdom over the last two decades, and furthermore, has been subject to successful legal challenge under the Human Rights Act 1998. On the 22 January 2016, the UK Court of Appeal ruled that it was contrary to article eight of the Human Rights Act 1998 for a person to be required by law to disclose multiple minor convictions regardless of the time elapsed or the personal circumstances within which an offence occurred (Rose 2016).This followed an earlier 2013 Court of Appeal ruling, which led to a number of minor convictions being deemed ‘protected’ from disclosure after 11 years for adult offenders and 5.5 years for youth offenders (Liberty 2013).
Although regarded by some as being progressive reforms to the UK criminal record system (e.g. see Jackson 2014; Rose 2016), human rights advocates and penal reform activists have argued that they do not go far enough to ameliorate the long-term collateral damage to ex-offenders lives caused by officially sanctioned sentences imposed by courts, particularly if an offence occurs early in a person’s life (e.g. see Sands 2016; Unlock 2016). Nonetheless, this article contends that the UK High Court rulings underscore the need for action to be taken to ensure adequate security-based checks and balances are in place, which prioritize public safety, particularly in relation to the degree of devolved discretion permitted to some types of employers.
Focusing on the medical profession as a case study to investigate how this discretion is currently applied in practice, this article contributes to the evidenced-based promotion of a more nuanced rights-based view of criminal record reform. In doing so, it seeks to develop a broader criminological conception of the relationship between work and desistance from offending behaviour, through exploring more fully the diversity of the stratified forms of employment sought by ex-offenders (Hunter 2015). Moreover, its arguments are germane to international jurisdictions, such as the United States, Canada and Australia, all of whom are currently debating similar progressive reforms to their criminal records systems (Fox 2016).