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Is Ched Evans Being Unfairly Treated?

About The Author

Yasmin Daswani (Former Writer)

Yasmin is currently a third year law student at Durham University. Yasmin aspires to be a solicitor and is currently interested in criminal and family law. Outside of her studies, Yasmin is a passionate sportswoman; she is part of her university waterpolo team.

In April 2012, Ched Evans, the former Sheffield United (SU) football player, was convicted of the rape of a 19-year-old woman who was deemed too drunk to consent. Evans was sentenced to five-years’ imprisonment and was eligible for release after serving half of that sentence.  

After Evans was released from prison on the 17th of October 2014, there was much speculation about his return to SU. Whilst initially SU allowed Evans to return to train with the club, they were quick to retract their offer following public furore. Alongside a public petition opposing the decision, a number of club patrons stepped down from their positions and Olympic gold-winning heptathlete, Jessica Ennis-Hill announced that she would want her name removed from a stand at Bramall Lane if the club were to re-sign the player. 

Within this high-profile context, this article will look at the different perspectives on rehabilitation, as well as the policy arguments surrounding Ched Evans’ return to professional football.

Rehabilitation Models

The aims of rehabilitation are to reintegrate offenders back into society, protect the public and prevent reoffending. The reduction of reoffending rates is of particular importance to the government as almost half of all adult offenders released from custody reoffend within a year.   This has resulted in additional victims, higher costs for the taxpayer and prison overcrowding.

Correctional rehabilitation

One of the common criticisms levelled at Ched Evans’ return to professional football is that since he has not repented for his crime, he cannot be rehabilitated. This view is synonymous with the ‘correctional rehabilitation model’, which regards rehabilitation as effecting a positive change in individuals. The correctional model is often associated with notions of ‘rehabilitative punishment’, which assume that it is possible to isolate the causes of a persons offending, whether related to the offender’s character, morality, personality or psychological make-up, and then intervene in ways which will remove those causes. Under this model, Evans requires further rehabilitation before being reintegrated into society; since he has not admitted guilt he is a threat to the public and will have a high-risk of reoffending.

Yet statistics suggest that those who deny their offence are unlikely to be reconvicted of a sexual crime; in a Home Office report it was shown that only 4.3% of those who denied their guilt were reconvicted. At any rate the Offender Rehabilitation Act 2014 and the Ministry of Justice’s ‘Transforming Rehabilitation’ support the view that punishment alone is insufficient in preventing reoffending. 

Reintegration and resettlement model

Iain Crow views rehabilitation as a complement to ‘correctional’ treatment programmes. His definition refers to: 

A wide variety of interventions directed towards the social reintegration of offenders [including] schemes which aim to provide offenders with accommodation, education, training and employment.

The reintegration model differs from the correctional model in that it emphasises the social and/or economic causes that correlate with offending. Thus under this model the rate of reoffending should be reduced through emphasis on life-management, support and mentoring programmes, helping the offender return to the community of law abiding citizens and removing the impetus to commit crime.

This is a particularly convincing model in light of statistics that prove that access to community sentences and employment reduces the risk of reoffending. In the last twenty years or so, there has been significant investment in the development and delivery of offender rehabilitation programmes across the western world, and support for rehabilitative ideals is more clearly enshrined in public policy than any time in the past.  Most recently, the UK Government invested more than £2 million in charities and social enterprises, encouraging them to use innovative methods to support ex-offenders and to transform their lives at a greater scale.

Yet whilst it may be desirable for criminals to be rehabilitated, are employers required by law to provide rehabilitation to employees (and prospective employees) with a criminal past?

Employing individuals with criminal convictions

Under the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment Act (LASPO) 2012 a "spent" conviction is one where an individual has been convicted, but has not re-offended during their rehabilitation period. If a conviction is "spent", an employer may not refuse to employ someone on the basis of a criminal record, unless the position applied for falls within the Exceptions Order (for example positions that involve work with children or work in the legal sector).

However Section 139(4)(b) of LASPO states (some have argued, arbitrarily) that sentences that are over 48 months (4 years) can never be spent. As such Evans will always need to disclose his conviction when seeking employment; potential employers will have full discretion in deciding whether or not to employ him; and employers can legally refuse to employ him on the basis of his criminal record.

Yet even when a candidate has an unspent conviction, it is good practice for employers to have regard to the seriousness of the offence, the relevance of the conviction to the job, the candidate’s circumstances and the candidate’s explanation for the conviction. 

SU were prepared to allow Evans’ to train with them on the basis that he had demonstrated good behaviour whilst in custody, assured them of his stance against rape and violence, and it was the club’s belief that offenders should have the right to return to work following imprisonment. It was only following public outcry that SU decided to retract their decision, and they have subsequently been criticised for giving in to the public’s ‘mob-like behaviour’. One particularly controversial article argues that Evans has been subject to double jeopardy in the court of public opinion, and that SU should have stood their ground on the belief that an offender should be reintegrated.

In theory, I believe that public pressure in the form of arbitrary petitions and statements should not be taken into account when making employment decisions. In accordance with the reintegration model, employers should have discretion to decide whether or not to give offenders a second chance. However in practice it is very difficult for a high-profile brand such as SU to ignore public pressure given the impacts that it has on their sponsorship, supporters and stakeholders. In particular, SU would find it very difficult to justify to their sponsors that they were sticking by their ethos as a ‘Family and Community Club’ when several of their patrons had made public statements arguing that re-signing Evans would contradict these values. Ultimately the commercial and reputational risk is too high for a high-profile football club to ignore such powerful public pressure.

Inconsistencies

Yet Evans’ supporters have questioned why other footballers have caused less controversy following their re-employment. Lee Hughes received an £80,000 a-year contract following imprisonment for causing death by dangerous driving, and Luke McCormick was given a second chance, despite having killed two children through drink driving. Yet in both of these cases the players expressed remorse. Evans, on the other hand, has staunchly maintained his innocence and has issued a public apology for his drunken infidelity, rather than for the rape for which he was convicted.

Had Evans admitted to his crime or even issued a statement condemning rape, circumstances would have been different and the public reaction may not have been so strong. SU would be able to justify their decision if they had hired a player who at the very least showed some understanding of the broader implications of his actions in light of the current issues of sexual violence towards women and girls. However Evans has maintained his innocence and has allowed his supporters and family to very publicly bully, humiliate and threaten his victim, forcing her to change identity and relocate twice. This is a huge emotive factor that has angered the public, and whilst the decision to re-employ Luke McCormick attracted ire, he at least appeased the public by writing an apology letter to the victim’s families. Nevertheless, as a person with huge influence over young fans, Evans’ response, given the circumstances, was insufficient. 

Conclusions

Ched Evans is within his legal right to seek employment in his former profession. In addition, Sheffield United should have discretion to employ ex-offenders and should not have to take into account public opinion. However as a football club that is both an employer and a high profile brand, the commercial and reputational risk of hiring an unrepentant rapist will have been too high for SU, particularly given the immense public anger over their decision to allow Evans to train.

Footballers are not just paid for being sportsmen; but are also paid because of the prestige, merchandise, advertising and club loyalty. Since Evans is an employee of SU in a position of influence, he is expected to behave according to the values that the club presents. Particularly because Sheffield holds itself as a ‘Family and Community Club’, they have responsibilities to their young fans to respond appropriately to the sexist attitudes that underpin the abuse of women and girls. Evans could have behaved according to SU’s values if he had publicly acknowledged that rape is not a trivial crime, and responded to the victim-blaming attitude that was so prevalent amongst his inner circle of friends and family. It is unfortunate that he did not do so.

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Tagged: Criminal Law, Justice

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