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Passing of Spent Convictions legislation a historic step for Ireland, but could go much further

3rd February 2016

MEDIA ADVISORY

The Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) has today (Wednesday, 3 February 2016) welcomed the passage of the Criminal Justice (Spent Convictions and Certain Disclosures) Bill 2012 through both houses of the Oireachtas as a historic step for Ireland. When signed into law and enacted, certain minor convictions more than 7 years old will become ‘spent’ and no longer have to be declared, thus removing barriers to employment, education, training, housing and insurance for tens of thousands of people in Ireland who have moved on from past offending behaviour.

IPRT acknowledges the prioritisation by Minister for Justice and Equality, Frances Fitzgerald TD of this important piece of legislation in the final weeks of the 31st Dáil. IPRT welcomes the Minister’s intention (stated in the Dáil on 27th January 2016) that the legislation should be commenced early April 2016. Finally, IPRT thanks the many TDs and Senators who have supported the urgent need for a spent convictions scheme in Ireland over many years.

IPRT remains disappointed that limitations in the scope of the Bill means it will not be of benefit to people who committed more than one offence (other than minor motoring/public order offences) in the past, no matter how long ago the offences were committed. To this end, IPRT looks forward to a review of the operation of the legislation in future with a view to widening its reach.

Responding today, IPRT Executive Director Deirdre Malone said:

Thousands of people in Ireland with old convictions have demonstrated that they want to move on with their lives – go to work, volunteer, contribute to their communities. This legislation will realise that goal for many people, but it is disappointing that it did not go further. We will be asking the next Government to review the operation of the spent convictions legislation in the future in order to ensure that it fully supports the rehabilitation and reintegration of those with previous convictions.”

IPRT has campaigned over 10 years for a legislative scheme whereby certain convictions are no longer declared after a set rehabilitative period. The Criminal Justice (Spent Convictions and Certain Disclosures) Bill 2012, when signed into law and commenced, will be of benefit to a wide number of people with minor convictions histories, particularly those received for motoring and public order offences. However, IPRT believes the legislation could have been strengthened through:

  • Raising the limit on the type of custodial sentence that is eligible to become spent from 12 months or less to <30 months (in line with Northern Ireland) or <48 months (in line with England and Wales);
  • Removing the cap on the number of convictions that may become spent: IPRT maintains that it is the length of time since a person offended and not the number of times they may have offended in the past that indicates the likelihood of reoffending; and
  • Retaining a proportionate relationship between the nature of the sanction and the rehabilitation period: the blanket 7-year rehabilitative period for all sanctions, whether a small fine or a sentence of 12 months in prison, is disproportionate.

The vast majority of queries received by IPRT relate to difficulties experienced by people with historic convictions who continue to face barriers in their everyday lives, ranging from difficulties accessing home and car insurance to being turned down for third-level education and training courses.

For more information on IPRT’s campaign, see: www.iprt.ie/spent-convictions  

For further comment, anonymised case studies, or an interview with IPRT Executive Director, Deirdre Malone, please contact Fíona on: 087 181 2990 (media enquiries only)

NOTES:

1. The Criminal Justice (Spent Convictions) Bill 2012 was debated and passed in the Dáil on 27th January 2016, and passed at final stage in Seanad on 3rd February 2016. When the Bill is signed into law by President of Ireland, it will become known as the Criminal Justice (Spent Convictions and Certain Disclosures) Act 2016.

The Bill as passed by the Dáil is available here: https://www.oireachtas.ie/documents/bills28/bills/2012/3412/b34b12d.pdf

2. Under the legislation, when passed and commenced, the following convictions may become spent after 7 years:

  • Convictions for certain motoring and public order offences received in the district court, for which the sanction received was less than a 12-month custodial sentence or 24-month suspended sentence not subsequently revoked.   
  • One other conviction received in the district or circuit court, for which the sanction received was less than a 12-month custodial sentence or 24-month suspended sentence not subsequently revoked.
  • A number of exclusions and conditions apply; convictions for sexual offences are excluded from the scheme.

3. Introduced in May 2012, the Bill stalled in the Dáil at Order for Report, Report and Final Stages end March 2013, while aspects of the legislation – including its potential incompatibility with the European Convention on Human Rights – were reviewed.

4. An Administrative Filter to Garda Vetting was introduced on 31st March 2014, which clarified the information that is declared on vetting forms. Details of the Admin Filter are available here: http://www.garda.ie/Controller.aspx?Page=13475

5. Until now, Ireland has been the only country in the EU to not have any scheme whereby certain convictions can become spent after a rehabilitative period. The equivalent legislation was passed in the UK in 1974.

6. Although comparable figures are not available in Ireland, research published by the Ministry of Justice in 2006 found that 15 per cent of people between the ages of 10 and 52 in England and Wales are estimated to have had at least one conviction for a standard list offence; the equivalent figure for males is 24 per cent and for females 6 per cent. 1 in 3 males born in 1953, and 1 in 10 females born in 1953, had received a conviction by the age of 46.

7. Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) is Ireland's leading non-governmental organisation campaigning for the rights of everyone in prison and the progressive reform of Irish penal policy, with prison as a last resort. IPRT has been campaigning for a spent convictions scheme to be introduced in Ireland since 2006. See: www.iprt.ie/spent-convictions