I have just commented on the article on the Imperial College student run news website Live! on a prospective medical student who had his medical school place taken away from him due to a referral order he had received following a burglary at the age of 15.
In a Guardian article the prospective student has said:
I was duped into entering a property – aged 15, it’s not hard to make the wrong decision. How I regret not asking more questions when some people who I thought were friends invited me in to their new “chill out pad”. Within minutes of entering the property, I was arrested and confined to a police cell for the first time in my life.
Despite my innocence, I had no option but to plead guilty to the charge of burglary dwelling.
I have personally witnessed a number of times, in both Crown and Magistrates courts people who maintain their innocence pleading guilty.
Too often in court young people come in and are asked how to plead and they say something like: “I’ve been advised to plead guilty”, or “I didn’t do it, but I’m going to plead guilty”, or they plead guilty at some point mid-proceedings, perhaps when the prosecution case is looking weak and the prosecutors are prepared to do a deal and get the defendant to plead guilty to something very minor. Previous posters on this thread have said they would not plead guilty to something they didn’t do; but if the options before you are the certainty of a small fine or the possibility – if the magistrates or jury get it wrong – of prison you might well take the small fine. Those advising youngsters are probably not thinking about how to keep their record clean so as to enable them to enter positions of responsibility in the future, but aiming at keeping them out of prison.
We need to improve our justice system so that those who are innocent have enough confidence in it to defend their innocence. If you want to make a good-faith defence you should be free to do so without the prospect of a much tougher sentence if despite your defence you are then found guilty. Mr Ahmed should have had the confidence to put his version of what happened to the magistrates without fear of being further punished for doing so.
Mr Ahmed was sentenced to a “Referral Order”, we don’t know what was said by the presiding magistrate in court, or what information was given to him immediately afterwards, but a strongly emphasised element of a “Referral Order” is that it is considered spent as soon as it has been completed; it is possible that at court, and at subsequent meetings this was heavily stressed and he was left with the impression that once he had completed his order he could put the episode behind him.
For example see Kensington and Chelsea’s answer to the question: “Will you have a criminal record?” in respect of a “referral order”:
“If you complete your ‘agreement’ then your conviction will become ‘spent’. Spent means that you do not have to tell anyone about it, and most people will have no right to know about it (the only exception is if you are applying for certain jobs – for example. working with children). The Referral order is the only court order that will not be recorded as a criminal conviction.”
We have a ridiculous situation in this country now where even a wrongful arrest can blight your life: you can’t have visa free travel to the USA and end up with your DNA on the national database forever. Even a simple encounter with the police with an officer asking you what you’re up to results in a formal, permanent entry on an intelligence database. I strongly agree with “sporty” in comment 62, we need to review this whole concept of “spent”, we need to allow people the opportunity to reform, if the path to reform isn’t accessible then more criminals will remain criminals.
I think Imperial’s second interview panel was the right way to deal with this, assuming of course they had the full facts.
Looking at the response to this case in various newspapers and websites it appears there is a great deal of confusion among both public and professionals on what a “Referal Order” is, some equating it to a caution, others to a putative sentence following conviction, there is a need for clarity.