Civil liberties campaigners have called for an urgent reform of laws obliging people to disclose all previous convictions to certain employers.
Pressure group Liberty spoke out ahead of a court ruling, expected next week, which it claims will declare the laws in breach of human rights.
Liberty said Master of the Rolls Lord Dyson told a Court of Appeal hearing the Government should "pull its finger out" in changing blanket provisions in the Criminal Records Bureau system.
It said the court had concluded that automatic disclosure of all convictions and cautions - whether or not relevant to the job being applied for - was incompatible with Article 8 of the Human Rights Act - the right to a private and family life.
A draft judgment had been drawn up in December but not published while the Home Office discussed concerns with the court about the implications for the CRB system, it said.
Liberty intervened in the case of a 21-year-old man - identified only as T - who was forced when applying for a part-time job at a football club and a university course to disclose warnings from Manchester police over two stolen bicycles when he was 11.
Its legal officer Corinna Ferguson said: "The over-zealous CRB system has allowed old, minor and unreliable information to wreck the lives of too many hardworking people in the UK.
"The Government can't put off dealing with this any longer.
"We look forward to seeing urgent proposals for a proportionate system that properly balances the aim of public protection with privacy rights."
A Home Office spokeswoman said: "The Court of Appeal has yet to make a ruling. We will respond when it does."