Britain's Justice Secretary Ken Clarke

Hundreds of thousands of criminals will have their convictions wiped under “rehabilitation” plans revealed last night.

Rapists, paedophiles and even some killers will overnight be relieved of any obligation to declare their crimes when applying for a job.

Justice Secretary Ken Clarke will also slash the time period before convictions become “spent”, to help criminals get back into work.

Yesterday ministers said it was right that criminals had a “fair chance of getting back on the straight and narrow’.

The Government admitted the changes could expose some employers to ‘greater risk of harm through their re-offending’. But they insist the risk is ‘small’ because re-offending rates decline sharply within a few years of release.

Previously, anyone given a jail sentence of more than two and a half years would have to declare their offence to prospective employers for the rest of their lives.

From next year, that will only apply to those given a sentence of more than four years - meaning many more serious offenders will be able to declare themselves ‘clean’ after a period of time has elapsed.

Serious offenders with a sentence of between 30 months and four years will no longer have to declare their convictions after seven years. This will include some killers with manslaughter convictions, as well as rapists and paedophiles. Sentences of between six months and 30 months - the kind given to violent thugs and drug dealers - will expire after four years instead of the current ten.

And those given up to six months in jail, which can include burglars, will be clear after two years instead of seven.

But the time periods will be calculated from the end of the sentence, instead of the date of conviction as is currently the case.

Court fines will be expunged after one year rather than five, and the same will apply to community sentences.

The rules will also be retrospective, meaning criminals who committed serious crimes in the distant past will benefit immediately.

Last night Dr David Green, director of the Civitas think-tank, said: “There are some employers who are willing to give people a second chance and that’s a good thing. But it’s better if they know they have a doubtful history.

“By spending convictions rapidly you are deceiving people. These days no-one gets put in prison unless they have done something pretty bad. I think this is sending the wrong message.”

Officials insisted that indeterminate sentences for public protection would never be spent, nor would new extended sentences for the most serious sexual and violent crimes.

Once a conviction is spent, employers cannot refuse to give an applicant a job or dismiss an employee because of it. Spent convictions will no longer show up in a basic Criminal Records Bureau check. But offenders will have to declare them when applying to work in schools, prisons or other ‘sensitive’ environments.

Justice Minister Lord McNally said: “First and foremost, criminals must be suitably punished for their crimes. But it is no good for anyone if they go to jail and come out and then can’t get an honest job and so turn back to crime again.” - Reuters