Case Study 3: Spent Convictions
IPRT has long campaigned for a mechanism in Ireland which allows for the expungement for certain adult convictions. Expungement of convictions is of the utmost importance to people who have offended in the past in terms of their access to education, insurance, employment and housing. Unfortunately, for most people with offending histories, having a criminal record, no matter how minor or how long ago, continues to present ongoing barriers in many areas of their life. Until 2016, Ireland was the sole country in the European Union lacking any provision for convictions to become spent after a set rehabilitative period - in effect, amounting to life-long punishment.
So what did we do about it?
We did our research, and shared the information widely. We set out our position that a spent convictions scheme is a necessary support for rehabilitation and reintegration, calling for robust and wide-reaching legislation to be introduced and enacted with urgency. We reported that Ireland was the only country in the European Union which did not provide any legislation on spent convictions. We reported that Ireland was the only country in the European Union which did not provide any legislation on spent convictions.
And then we went about campaigning for legislative change. We published briefings and survey results. We issued press releases. We talked to the media. We regularly emailed updates to people affected and answered hundreds of telephone/email queries from people affected. We presented regular submissions to Government on draft legislation, and brought international experts to Dublin for two all-party seminars in Leinster House. We directly emailed TDs and Senators in advance of Oireachtas debates, sharing the human stories that lay behind the statistics. We advocated directly to the Minister for Justice and senior officials in the Department of Justice. We held public events. We worked in alliance on the issue, building capacity with IASIO, Care After Prison, U-Casadh, Le Chéile, and other organisations.
We could not have achieved so much without the behind-the-scenes activity of people affected who raised the issue with their local TDs. We would also like to acknowledge the many TDs and Senators who showed particular support for our work in this area, including: Senator Jillian van Turnout, Senator (and later TD) Ivana Bacik, Senator Fiach MacConghail, Senator David Cullinane, Senator Kathryn Reilly, Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh, Thomas Pringle TD, Pádraig Mac Lochlainn TD, Maureen O’Sullivan TD, Niall Collins TD, Mick Wallace TD, Clare Daly TD, Fergus O’Dowd TD, Olivia Mitchell TD and David Stanton TD. The support and leadership of Senator Lynn Ruane was central to our work in recent years.
What was the result?
After many years of tireless and resolute campaigning, the Criminal Justice (Spent Convictions and Certain Disclosures) Act 2016 was signed into law by President Michael D. Higgins on 11th February 2016. The Minister for Justice and Equality announced on Wednesday, 6th April 2016, that the Act is to be commenced on the 29th April 2016:
“It is intended to commence the Spent Convictions Bill from 29th April 2016. The effect of the Act will be that where persons are applying for employment, (other than employment which is exempt from the provisions of the Act), the person will not be obliged to disclose certain convictions which are over 7 years old. In accordance with the provisions of the Act the following convictions will be spent:
1) All convictions in the District Court for Motoring offences which are more than 7 years old will be spent, subject to the proviso that spent convictions for dangerous driving are limited to a single conviction.
2) All convictions in the District Court for minor public order offences which are more than 7 years old will be spent.
3) In addition, where a person has one, and only one, conviction (other than a motoring or public order offence) which resulted in a term of imprisonment of less than 12 months (or a fine) that conviction will also be spent after 7 years. This provision will apply to either a District Court or Circuit Court conviction.
4) However, sexual offences or convictions in the Central Criminal Court are not eligible to become spent convictions.”
The effect of this legislation provides that people over age 18 are no longer required by law to disclose certain eligible convictions after seven years for the purposes of employment, education, housing, insurance etc.
The enactment of this Act will give the opportunity to people with minor convictions histories to move on with their lives; finally free of their punishment, the Act will hopefully open numerous doors of opportunity for them. Whilst IPRT welcomed the enactment of the legislation, we were conscious that the legislation is limited to certain offences and does not extend to people who have committed more than one offence (other than minor motoring/public order offences) regardless of the amount of time that has been passed since the conviction. IPRT continued to call for a review of the operation of the legislation, in order to widen its reach and extend to cover more than one offence (other than minor motoring/public order offences) and lengthen the terms of imprisonment permissible under the Act to 48 months.
Where to next?
Senator Lynn Ruane introduced the Criminal Justice (Rehabilitative Periods) Bill 2018 [PMB] in late 2018. The Bill proposes to increase the upper limit of eligible sentences, includes a distinct approach to convictions received as a young adult (18-24, as amended) and introduced proportionality between the length of the sentence received and the period before which the conviction can become spent. IPRT has engaged closely with Senator Ruane and other Oireachtas members on the Bill throughout its journey through the Oireachtas to date. This supported progressive amendments at Committee Stage.
The Bill completed Final Stage in the Seanad in June 2021. Notwithstanding the need for further amendments to strengthen the Bill, IPRT supports the reintroduction of the Bill in the Dáil.
Key Actions by IPRT
It would not be possible to list here every action by IPRT that contributed to the enactment of the Criminal Justice (Spent Convictions and Certain Disclosures) Act 2016, but some key outputs include:
- November 2008: In response to the draft Spent Convictions Bill 2007 first introduced on 25th October 2007, IPRT published a detailed Position Paper on Spent Convictions in November 2008. At this time, IPRT contributed to the Law Society’s Spent Convictions Group report The Disclosure of Criminal Convictions. Proposals on a Rehabilitation of Offenders Bill which was published in May 2009.
- December 2008: IPRT reported on the Spent Convictions Bill 2007 being debated in the Dáil at second stage. IPRT Position Paper on Spent Convictions submitted to the Minister for Justice.
- April 2009: IPRT welcomed Observations on the Spent Convictions Bill 2007, published by the Irish Human Rights Commission, in which they considered whether the 2007 Bill was in line with Ireland’s commitment to rehabilitate and re-integrate offenders back into society.
- May 2009: IPRT responds in media to the publication of the Law Society’s Spent Convictions Group report The Disclosure of Criminal Convictions. Proposals on a Rehabilitation of Offenders Bill.
- April 2010: IPRT reported on the Data Commissioner's Report on the Spent Conviction Bill and called for the Spent Convictions Bill to be brought back onto the political agenda with urgency.
- May 2010: IPRT launched “It’s like stepping on a landmine…” - Reintegration of Prisoners in Ireland. The report assessed the current provision of reintegration services and support for prisoners before and after their release from prison, and makes clear recommendations for a spent convictions scheme to be introduced.
- June 2010: IPRT held an Oireachtas Seminar on Reintegration of Offenders, dealing with the issue of spent convictions and the need for legislation in this regard. Speaking at the seminar were Lisa Cuthbert, Director of PACE and Tina Roche, of Business in the Community Ireland.
- February 2011: In advance of the general Election in 2011, IPRT put four key questions to candidates. One critical question which was put to politician aimed to secure a commitment from politicians to place priority on passing the Spent Convictions Bill that year:“are you committed to the Spent Convictions Bill? Will you make it a priority?”
- April 2011: IPRT welcomed the inclusion of the Spent Convictions Bill among the list of twenty urgent Bills to be published by the Government by the end of the Summer Session (July 21st, 2011.)
- May 2011: An article in The Sunday Times entitled ‘The web never forgets’ explored the issue of recent EU attempts by individuals to control what is said about them on the internet in which IPRT Executive Director Liam Herrick is quoted. IPRT is also quoted in The Journal on an article which highlights the upcoming Spent Convictions Bill due to be published by Minister Shatter, and Emergency Services Ireland published an article on IPRT's recent Public Forum on Spent Convictions in their May 2011 issue.
- IPRT holds an Oireachtas seminar for the All Party Oireachtas Penal Reform Group of TDs and Senators, and the first of the new Dáil session, focused on Spent Convictions legislation. Speakers at the Oireachtas Seminar on Spent Convictions included Bobby Cummines OBE, former prisoner and currently Chief Executive of UNLOCK and Dr Shane Kilcommins, lecturer in Law at UCC.
- IPRT also held a public forum Breaking the Record – Spent Convictions & Discrimination. Speakers included Bobby Cummines OBE, Chief Executive of UNLOCK and Esther Lynch, Head of Legal and Social Affairs of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions.
- June 2011: IPRT continue to report on the Spent Convictions Bill as it was debated in the Dáil and welcomed Minister Shatter’s plans to publish a ‘new improved’ Bill before the Dáil breaks for summer recess.
- September 2011: Further to an article published in the Irish Independent which reported that Garda Vetting is required for more than 225 CAO courses, IPRT advised that with no Spent Convictions legislation in Ireland meant that people who committed minor offences in the past - no matter how unrelated to the area of education, and no matter how long ago - can meet potential barriers in accessing education.
- October 2011: IPRT’s support for the Spent Convictions Bill was published in the Sunday Independent.
- January 2012: IPRT reported on the announcement of The Government’s Legislative Programme for the Spring Session 2012. IPRT welcomed the inclusion of the Spent Convictions Bill in the A-list Bills expected to be published from the start of the Dáil session to the beginning of the next session.
- February 2012: IPRT launched our new position paper “The Vicious Circle of Social Exclusion and Crime: Ireland’s Disproportionate Punishment of the Poor” at a seminar co-hosted by the Community Platform and IPRT. Speakers at the event were John Lonergan - former Governor of Mountjoy Prison and Patron of IPRT, Kathleen Lynch - Professor of Equality Studies, School of Social Justice, University College Dublin, Tony Geoghegan - Chief Executive Officer, Merchants Quay Ireland (MQI), Orla O’Connor - Head of Policy, National Women's Council of Ireland (NWCI), BridO’Brien - Head of Policy and Media, Irish National Organisation of the Unemployed (INOU) and Liam Herrick – former Executive Director, Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT).
- May 2012: IPRT broadly welcomed the publication of the Criminal Justice (Spent Convictions) Bill 2012 on the 5th May, 2012. IPRT continued to call for number of aspects to be strengthened before finalisation. IPRT also published information on convictions that were committed as a juvenile and the options available to them in relation to expungement. The Irish Times wrote an article on the recently published Criminal Justice (Spent Convictions) Bill 2012 and IPRT former Executive Director Liam Herrick was quoted in the article, highlighting some of the limitations of the Bill.
- June 2012: IPRT reported on the Irish Human Rights Commission recent report “Observations on the Criminal Justice (Spent Convictions) Bill 2012” and highlighted their key recommendations. IPRT also reported that on 13th June 2012, the Criminal Justice (Spent Convictions) Bill 2012 was introduced by Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence, Mr Alan Shatter in the Seanad.
- IPRT published their submission on Criminal Justice (Spent Convictions) Bill 2012 which was launched at our Breakfast Briefing on Penal Reform on the 28th June 2012.
- October 2012: IPRT reported on the Irish Human Rights Commission’s observations and recommendations, on the National Vetting Bureau (Children and Vulnerable Persons) Bill 2012, including clarification of the relationship between this Bill and the Criminal Justice (Spent Convictions) Bill 2012.
- February 2013: IPRT reported that the Criminal Justice (Spent Convictions) Bill 2012 returned to the Seanad at Committee Stage on the 30th January, detailing the amendments that were accepted and the Senators that argued for wider application of the legislation including Sen. Jillian van Turnhout, Sen. David Cullinane, and Sen. Denis O'Donovan.
- IPRT advised on the implications of the lack of Spent Convictions legislation in Ireland affects previous convicted offenders on the matter of insurance policies.
- March 2013: IPRT reported on the return of the Criminal Justice (Spent Convictions) Bill 2012 to the Committee Stage. IPRT encouraged people, if they believed that the limit applying to the Bill to only custodial sentences of 12 months or less is too restrictive, to contact their TD’s and voice their concerns. IPRT further reported when The Criminal Justice (Spent Convictions) Amendment Bill 2012 was stalled at Order for Report, Report and Final Stages, while aspects of the legislation were under review.
- May 2013: IPRT published a FAQs on Spent Convictions and the proposed legislation on their website to assist affected people seeking clarity on their current and future status.
- June 2013: IPRT held an information seminar “Breaking the Record – Moving On” which focused on The Criminal Justice (Spent Convictions) Bill 2012 and the National Vetting Bureau (Children and Vulnerable Persons) Act 2012, how they will work in practice, and the issues that remain unaddressed on the 12th June. Data Commissioner Billy Hawkes, Senator Jillian van Turnout, Remy Farrell SC and Mary Cunningham, Director of the NYCI.
- February 2014: IPRT reported that The Criminal Justice (Spent Convictions) Bill 2012 may be passed by summer 2014 and gave updates on the recent Dáil responses by the Minister for Justice in respect of the Spent Convictions Bill.
- January 2015: IPRT published a Briefing on “Spent Convictions Feb 2015”. IPRT also conducted a short survey on the impact of having a criminal record in Ireland.
- February 2015: IPRT hosted a seminar for the All Party Oireachtas Penal Reform Group of TDs where Senators discussed the need to pass The Criminal Justice (Spent Convictions) Bill 2012 without further delay. The event, chaired by Ivana Bacik, heard from Deirdre Malone, Executive Director of IPRT; Christopher Stacey, CEO of Unlock in the UK; and a former prisoner who now works in education of prisoners and former prisoners.
- March 2015: IPRT reported that the Minister for Justice and Equality Frances Fitzgerald TD stated that she hopes the Criminal Justice (Spent Convictions) Bill will be enacted before summer 2015 in response to a question by Senator Ivana Bacik on the 3rd of March.
- July 2015: Prof Michael O'Flaherty (then Chairperson of IPRT) wrote in the Irish Times addressing the lack of spent convictions legislation in Ireland, and identifying the potential conflicts with Ireland's human rights obligations in the most recent proposals on the 6th July 2015.
- January 2016: IPRT updated their submission on The Criminal Justice (Spent Convictions) Bill 2012. IPRT further reported that The Criminal Justice (Spent Convictions and Certain Disclosures) Bill 2012 was passed in the Dáil on Wednesday 27th January 2016.
- February 2016: IPRT welcomed the passage of The Criminal Justice (Spent Convictions and Certain Disclosures) Bill 2012 through both houses of the Oireachtas. IPRT further reported that on the 11th February, President Higgins signed the Bill into law.
- April 2016: IPRT reported that the Spent Convictions Act is to commence on the 26th April 2016. IPRT further reported on the certain offences of which the Act will apply to and the remaining requirements to avail of a spent conviction.
- September 2017:IPRT held a seminar entitled 'Working with Conviction', which focused on the recruitment of people with convictions and with experience of imprisonment. The aim of encouraging better responses to previous offenders seeking employment and providing leadership to local employers. As part of this campaign, we commissioned SpunOut to create an information video, to better educate the general public about the provisions (and limits) of the 2016 Act. The video is available on our Youtube.
- November 2017: IPRT published information sheets containing easy-to-read information on the legislation. (The information sheets are intended for guidance purposes only and do not constitute legal advice.)
- October 2018: IPRT made a submission to the Irish Human Rights & Equality Commission Consultation on Strategy Statement 2019-2021, outlining the limitations of the Criminal Justice (Spent Convictions and Certain Disclosures) Act 2016
- February 2019: IPRT published a briefing on the Criminal Justice (Rehabilitative Periods) Bill 2018. IPRT also conducted and published the results of an online survey undertaken by 148 people with conviction histories, which showed that employment was the area of most concern for people with conviction histories.
- July 2019: IPRT presented to the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality on Spent Convictions as part of the Committee’s review of spent convictions legislation, advocating for more robust legislation.
- November 2020: IPRT made a submission to the Department of Justice Public Consultation on Spent Convictions. IPRT also held a joint information session with Care After Prison and Senator Ruane, to support interested parties in making a submission. (See other civil society submissions to the consultation here.)
- October 2021: IPRT supported an open meeting for all TDs and Senators as part of the All-Party Oireachtas Group on Penal Reform, which focused on spent convictions and mental health, with a contribution from Senator Lynn Ruane about the progress of the Bill.
For more on spent convictions, see the dedicated 'Spent Convictions' section on our website.