The Criminal Justice (Spent Convictions) Amendment Bill 2012 is scheduled at Order for Report, Report and Final Stage debate on Wed 27th January 2016.
IPRT believes that the legislation, while very welcome, is not strong enough to meet its intended purpose which is to support the rehabilitation of reformed offenders.
1. Max limit of <12 months custodial sentence
Although IPRT welcomes proposed amendments to include sentences of <12 months received in the circuit court, it is IPRT’s position that the legislation remains too limited in its scope. This provision is out of line with Northern Ireland, where sentences of up to 30 months may become spent, and with England and Wales, where sentences of up to 48 months may become spent.
2. Number of convictions
Proposed amendments, if passed, suggest that where a person has two or more convictions, no convictions at all can ever become spent.
It's important to note that the above rule would not apply to specified motoring and public order offences, for which there would be no limit to the number of convictions that may become spent after 7 years.
Thus, the legislation would benefit people with multiple speeding convictions, an offence which presents immediate and serious life danger to others – but will not benefit someone who has two shoplifting convictions, no matter how long ago those crimes were committed or under what personal circumstances.
IPRT strongly believes that if it is accepted that road traffic offenders can change their behaviour, this should apply equally to other categories of offender. Additionally, it is the length of time since a person offended - and not the number of times he or she may have offended in the past - that gives the clearest indication of the risk of offending again in the future.
3. Conviction Free Period
The proposed amendment uses a blanket 7-year rehabilitation period regardless of the sanction, the offence or any other circumstances. IPRT believes that this ignores fundamental human rights principles of relevance, necessity and proportionality. If the proposed amendment is accepted, all persons with one conviction would have to wait for seven years until that conviction becomes spent regardless of the circumstances of the offence or the sanction imposed, be it a small fine or a custodial sentence of 11 months.
In marked contrast with the position in the Republic, the Rehabilitation of Offenders (NI) Order1978 has been in place for more than 35 years and provides for rehabilitation periods of between six months and 10 years, linked proportionately with the nature of sanction imposed for the particular offence, and covers all those who receive sentences of 30 months or less.
In summary, IPRT believes that the proposed amendments to the Spent Convictions Bill 2012, if passed:
- Will be of benefit to people who have just one conviction, apart from convictions for minor motoring / public order offences.
- Will be of greater benefit to people with multiple convictions for minor motoring / public order offences.
- Will not meet Ireland’s obligations under the 1998 Belfast Agreement.
- Do not give sufficient consideration to the circumstances that give rise to offending behaviour during difficult periods in people’s lives, in particular youth and immaturity.
- Fail to support and acknowledge those people who have demonstrated that they have moved away from a period of offending behaviour.
- Will not act to reduce reoffending, and will maintain barriers to work, education, secure housing, etc.
It is important to emphasise that IPRT supports the need for a higher threshold to apply for convictions that may become spent for vetting purposes under the National Vetting Bureau (Children and Vulnerable Persons) Act 2012.
Please see http://www.iprt.ie/spent-convictions for more information on our work in this area.