Human rights campaigners say a Supreme Court ruling on the need for people to disclose childhood offences is an "injection of proportionality" into the criminal records system.

Five Supreme Court justices today concluded that a man's right to private life had been breached when he was forced to reveal a childhood police caution for cycle theft to a prospective employer.

Campaign group Liberty said the ruling was a move towards a balanced system.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission said the Supreme Court had "sensibly recognised" that people should not be "haunted forever" by minor childhood offending.

And a lawyer specialising in privacy issues said the decision appeared "entirely sound".

Home Secretary Theresa May - and Justice Secretary Chris Grayling - had asked Supreme Court justices to consider whether disclosure requirements were compatible with human rights legislation following rulings in the High Court and Court of Appeal.

Three appeal judges had said legislation requiring job applicants to disclose all convictions was a breach of human rights law.

And the Supreme Court upheld that decision after a hearing in London.

Mrs May and Mr Grayling introduced amendments in the wake of the Court of Appeal ruling.

But they maintained that the appeal court decision was wrong.

And their lawyers had asked for a Supreme Court ruling so that the ''correct position'' could be established.

"Finally, an injection of proportionality into our criminal records system," James Welch, Liberty's legal director said.

"Rules which allowed for blanket disclosure left no room for common sense and let irrelevant and unreliable information ruin lives.

"Of course appropriate checks must be made but today's judgment moves us towards a system that strikes a balance between protecting the vulnerable and ensuring that people with minor convictions can put their pasts behind them."

Rebecca Hilsenrath, chief legal officer for the Equality and Human Rights Commission, also welcomed the ruling.

"This judgment sensibly recognises, as did the Court of Appeal, that people should not be haunted forever by minor childhood offences, in a way which might prevent them from becoming productive members of society and from engaging in their chosen field of employment," she said.

"A warning given for a relatively trivial offence committed many years ago by a child, who has not re-offended, has no relevance to how that person could be safely employed to work as an adult."

And Dominic Crossley, a solicitor specialising in privacy issues at Payne Hicks Beach Solicitors, added: "This decision ... appears to me to be entirely sound; the routine examination of old minor convictions should not be allowed to prejudice an individual's right to seek future employment."

Judges had been asked for rulings after campaigners called for reform of blanket provisions requiring applicants to disclose all convictions and cautions.

A High Court judge had initially ruled in favour of the Home Office.

That decision was then overturned by the Court of Appeal.

Supreme Court justices said the 1997 Police Act had created a system of criminal records checks which meant that information relating to people applying for certain types of job would be revealed to prospective employers.

The Supreme Court ruling did not reveal the identity of the man at the centre of the case.

But justices said the man had a criminal record because when, as a "boy of 11", he had received two warnings about the theft of a bicycle.

And when he applied for a job at a football club - and for a place on a sports studies course - the warnings he had received as a child were automatically disclosed because he might have come into contact with children.

One Supreme Court justice, Lord Reed, said it was "plain" that the disclosure of data relating to the man's childhood cautions was an interference with his human right to private life.

Justices had also analysed the case of a woman given a police caution for stealing a packet of false fingernails from a shop 13 years ago.

They said she had applied for a job as a carer and her caution had been disclosed.

The issue hit the headlines a decade ago following the murders of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman - both 10 - in Soham, Cambridgeshire.

School caretaker Ian Huntley was convicted of murdering the girls.

Education authority officials said they had not been aware of the full extent of Huntley's past involvement with police - and the case led to procedures being tightened.