Majid Ahmed: When is a Referral Order Spent? Should the Innocent Ever Plead Guilty?

Wednesday, July 9th, 2008. 11:59am

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.

My comment:

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.

7 comments/updates on “Majid Ahmed: When is a Referral Order Spent? Should the Innocent Ever Plead Guilty?

  1. Anonymous (Email Sumbitted)

    I have a similar problem. When my son was 16 I allowed him to go out with his friend on his 18 birthday. They were involved in an argument in a night club with 3 boys, one threw a drink over my son and his friend got very drunk. On leaving the club the three youths followed my son and his friend and a fight started which was captured on CCTV my sons Friend kicked one of the boys a nasty kick, but my son at this point was down the street.

    My son was charged with joint enterprise a total fabrication. I have our solicitors letter 2 days before trial stating he should be acquitted. On day of trial solicitor broke his leg. A barrister stepped in representing us and said my son should plead guilty, I was fuming. I was told if I objected and my son was proved guilty he would face 6 months in detention centre.
    I was hysterical asked for the trial to be delayed and was told it had to proceed and not to worry he would only receive a referral order and he would have a clean record, once he completed the supervision order. He also had 12 months on the order and a £500 fine.

    6 years have passed and we tried to let it pass and move forward. That was until last week when my son had an argument with a traffic warden, whom was trying to book him, when he was parked legally. He made a mistake and swore at the warden and she reported him to the police. The first thing the police officer said was “Oh I see you have a had problems before” my son stated it was 6 years ago and was he was given a referral order.

    I have since spoken to the officer who told me, my son will end up in prison with his attitude and if I carry on causing a fuss it will only make things worse.

    I am horrified. Has this become a police state.

    My son has run a successful business for the past 5 years he pays tax, rates, life insurance, health insurance, van insurance and we made the mistake, his dad and I as he was a minor of letting him accept a guilty plea when he was innocent.
    I have since found out the barrister also worked for the crown prosecution service and one member of the panel of magistrates knew my son. We are making criminals out of children and it must be stopped.I have spent 5 days researching other cases.

  2. punni

    if anyone knows how he was able to get solicitors to fight his case and who they were, i would like that information. my heart goes out to all the underprivileged who try to make an honest buck in their lives.

  3. Tracey Gregory

    i also agree, my son is 15 and was arrested for robbery and attempted robbery when he had no involment what so ever he helped the victims on that night and stayed with them but the police still arrested him and he was made to plead guilty this is disgusting in my eyes but in the YOC the judge said he knew right from wrong he was put in a situation what he thought he was doing right but still ended up with a refferal order this makes me so mad even the youth offeners said that he was wrongly charged and the panel said they would have done the same thing so dont let people think he did the wrong thing because he did not how can we come back from this it makes my blood boil

  4. Jayne

    From Birmingham UK. Same thing has happened to my daughter had a order when 14. was advised at the time swhe wouldnt have a criminal record.
    Its 2010 now and we have had to have a crb check done for college and guess what its on there……I need to know how to get it removed ive spoken to law firm who we had the advice from and they have advised to write to police. Any suggestions please.

    1. dcamp

      i would be keen to know where you got with this jayne. The same thing happened to my son and he went to usa to go to college and play soccer and had to go through the visa susyemt and get an ACRO report because this was on his record. Something he wasnt guilty of and had to please guilty with an overpacked train and some woman saying he squashed her with his ruck sack on his back she was calling him names and vice versa she took him to court he was 14 at the time and got charged for battery and offensive language. ACRO said it would be on his record for 10 years. it terrible that they tell all these youngsters that it will not be on their records, i want to shoot the solicitor who told us that mucks up our kids lives

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