Main types of criminal background checks
There are two main types of criminal background checks:
- State Police Check, and
- National Police Certificate (or National Police Check).
State Police Check
A State Police Check is issued by each state’s police department and contains findings of guilt from that state only. It will not show interstate matters. This is usually sufficient for court appearances.
National Police Check
A National Police Check contains findings of guilt from any Australian state or territory. It is not limited to any particular state.
There are three types of National Police Checks:
- Name only search: this is the most commonly requested criminal background check by employers and for visa purposes. It is a search against your full name only. It will not reveal findings against any previous names or aliases (unless disclosed);
- Name with fingerprint search: this may be required for visa, immigration, adoption and overseas employment purposes. It is a search against your full name and fingerprints. You will be required to attend in person for a fingerprint appointment; and
- Name with ASIO security assessment: you may require this if you work in a highly sensitive industry (e.g. mining company, agriculture).
What does a State Police Check or National Police Check contain?
A “finding of guilt”, not just a conviction
A criminal background check contains all findings of guilt. This is wider than a court conviction. It includes any admission of guilt, good behaviour bonds, community based orders, and suspended sentences.
What else will a police check contain?
A criminal background check will contain any findings of guilt unless it is spent. A finding of guilt will not expire and will not be removed from your record. However, it may be hidden from your record if it is spent.
This means that if you, or your employer, requests your criminal record, your spent findings will not be shown on this record (unless it is exempt, see below).
Whether a finding is spent will depend on state and federal legislation.
Generally, a spent finding is:
- For a State Police Check: a criminal offence older than 10 years. In some states, an offence older than 5 years may be spent if it is minor (e.g. in Queensland) or if you were convicted as a child (e.g. in Victoria). The definition of a spent finding differs between states so it is important to check your state’s legislation.
- For a National Police Check: a criminal offence older than 5 years if convicted as a child, an offence older than 10 years in any other case.
A spent finding will not appear on your criminal record in most cases. However, where the criminal record is requested for an exempt purpose (e.g. teaching, carer, insurance, overseas visa, licensing and registration) then spent findings related to that purpose may be revealed.
What is revealed depends on state and federal legislation. For example, a Working With Children Check will contain an exemption for spent findings relating to children. This means, the Check will reveal offences, which occurred earlier than 10 years, if it is of a serious sexual or violent nature or relates to children (see Working With Children Act 2005 for a detailed list of revealable matters in Victoria).
A criminal record will also contain:
- Traffic infringements involving convictions (e.g. drink/drug driving, excessive speeding);
- Sentences and penalties; and
- Pending or ongoing court hearings (will have “pending” on the side).
What won’t a criminal record contain?
Generally, a criminal record will not include the following:
- Findings of non-guilt;
- Incomplete/dropped charges;
- Traffic infringements not involving convictions (e.g. fines, cautions);
- Diversion programs;
- Penalties imposed by institutions or professional bodies;
- Matters prosecuted by authorities other than the police;
- Convictions overseas; and
- For State Police Checks, convictions from other Australian states.
For a State Police Check, this list will differ across states. Again, it is important to check your state’s legislation.
How can I get a criminal background check?
The police will not disclose your criminal record to a third party (e.g. employer) without your written consent.
If you would like to obtain a copy of your criminal record:
- State Police Check: contact your state’s police department.
- National Police Check: contact your state’s police department or the Australian Federal Police.
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