MORE than one-third of adult men and nearly one in 10 adult women in Scotland have at least one criminal conviction.

The figures are contained in a report looking at overhauling the rules governing when convictions should be considered spent.

The Scottish Government is due to launch a consultation shortly on the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act, which dates back nearly 40 years.

The legislation was originally intended to help those who have committed a crime back into employment by giving them the chance to "wipe the slate clean" and start afresh after staying out for trouble for certain period.

But concerns have been raised that issues such as more demands for criminal record checks and tougher penalties handed down for minor offences are making it increasingly difficult for ex-offenders to find jobs, even though being in work is a known factor in helping keep people out of jail.

A 25-year-old man fined for drunken behaviour, for example, would have to disclose his criminal record for five years.

One suggestion is that offences would only have to be disclosed to employers if they were relevant to that particular field of employment, such as a convicted fraudster having to disclose their criminal history if applying for an accountancy job, but not for a job as a driver.

Report co-author Professor Fergus McNeill, of the Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research (SCCJR), said: "Increasingly over the course of the years, as crime and punishment became more and more sensitive political issues, the approach to criminal conviction and disclosure of criminal convictions has become more and more conservative.

"An act which actually was intended to facilitate reintegration has, most would argue, become something of a barrier to it. "

The report notes figures compiled by Scottish Government analysts that show "at least one-third of the adult male population and nearly one in 10 of the adult female population is likely to have a criminal record".

McNeill added: "We are talking about an experience that is close to being normal for men, in the sense that so many have some kind of criminal conviction. To have too cautious an approach to the way we allow people back from that negative experience is liable to become more and more counter-productive."

Pete White, co-ordinator of the charity Positive Prisons? Positive Futures, which works to reduce re-offending, said the act was originally a well-intentioned piece of legislation to help people back into work.

But he added: "Unfortunately due to the way in which things have moved on since then, any disclosure of a criminal conviction of any kind increases the likelihood of an application being binned without any kind of personal or risk assessment being carried out."

A spokeswoman for the Scottish Government said it was planning to issue a discussion paper on how the act might be modernised shortly.

She added: "We do not hold a fixed view about how the regime might be modernised and reformed, and this paper is designed to provide all those with potential interest the chance to influence how specific proposals for modernisation and reform might be developed."