The home secretary, Theresa May, is facing urgent pressure to overhaul the criminal records system after an appeal court ruled that the way it operated was unlawful and breached human rights.

One of Britain’s most senior judges, Lord Dyson, the master of rolls, ruled that a blanket requirement on job applicants to disclose minor offences, including cautions, amounted to a breach of their right to a private and family life.

The publication of the judgement was delayed from December to give the Home Office time to change the system before the ruling creates chaos in the criminal record checks system.

The ruling by three appeal court judges invites the home secretary to take the case to the supreme court within 28 days, otherwise the ruling that the current system is unlawful will take effect.

The judges said they did not accept the Home Office’s argument that it was not within their discretion to make a declaration that the current law was incompatible with human rights because parliament was considering the matter.

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