Irish Penal Reform Trust

Joint Committee on Justice and Equality publish report on Spent Convictions (Oct 2019)

22nd November 2019

The Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice and Equality held a public hearing in July 2019 on the issue of spent convictions*. IPRT gave evidence as a witness in this hearing and the final report was published in October 2019. The Joint Committee explored the potential for reform broadly, with Senator Lynn Ruane’s Criminal Justice (Rehabilitative Periods) Bill 2018, which seeks to expand spent convictions legislation in Ireland and is now (20th Nov 2019) at the Report Stage, forming a large part of the context of the report.

The concept of spent convictions was first introduced into Irish law with the Children Act 2001. In this context, a conviction may become spent after three years, providing no other offence was committed in this period, if the perpetrator is under the age of 18, unless it was an offence tried by the Central Criminal Court. However, until 2016, Ireland was the only EU country with no form of spent convictions regime for adults. The Criminal Justice (Spent Convictions and Certain Disclosures) Act 2016, provided certain, limited provisions for convictions incurred as an adult to become spent. Under the 2016 Act, all motoring offences (except dangerous driving, which is limited to one offence) and all minor public offences dealt with in the District Court may become spent after a ‘rehabilitative period’ after seven years. In addition, one conviction from the District Court or Circuit Court, which results in a custodial sentence of 12 months or less, or a non-custodial sentence of two years or less, may become spent after seven years. If you have two (or more) such convictions, then neither may become spent.  

A fair spent convictions regime has been shown to reduce recidivism, benefits the individual in progressing with their lives and also benefits society. Excluded convictions, which can never become spent, include sexual offences and any crime dealt with by the Central Criminal Court, and the 2018 Bill does not change this.

*When a conviction becomes spent, you are not obligated to disclose it when, for example, applying for a job or an educational course. In general, employers cannot ask you to disclose convictions that have become spent, but a number of exceptions apply.

Recommendations of the Oireachtas Joint Committee Report (2019):

  1. That spent convictions provisions should be extended to people who receive custodial sentences of up to 24 months, and non-custodial sentences of up to four years. These extensions were part of the 2018 Bill as initiated.
  2. That the upper limit on the amount of convictions that may become spent is removed. This amendment to the 2018 Bill was proposed by Senator Ruane at the Committee Stage without opposition.
  3. That there be greater leniency for the distinct cohort of 18 to <25 year olds. In the 2018 Bill, an adult who commits an offence while under the age of 25 will have a shorter rehabilitative period than adults over 25. Furthermore, the report recommended that the three-year rehabilitative period for under-18s be removed. Senator Ruane proposed amending the Children Act to allow for a 1-year rehabilitative period; this passed without opposition.
  4. To introduce a proportionality principle in determining the length of the rehabilitative period, rather than an arbitrary blanket term of seven years. This amendment to the 2018 Bill was proposed by Senator Ruane at the Committee Stage without opposition.
  5. That an independent oversight committee be set up to review decisions to disclose Garda Vetting information to employers, schools, etc.  
  6. That anti-discrimination legislation be introduced. Senator Ruane proposed an amendment to the Employment Equality Act 1998, which would make less favourable treatment of an employee by their employer, by reason of a spent conviction, constitute discrimination.  This amendment was not opposed by government. Furthermore, the report recommended that employers be made aware of their ability to use discretion in hiring when convictions are disclosed.
  7. That the Department of Justice and Equality collect and publish data on access to spent convictions. The Committee was concerned at the lack of data on how many convictions since the enactment of the 2016 Act have become spent.
  8. That personal use possession offences under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1977 may become spent after three years. Senator Ruane proposed this amendment without opposition.
  9. That the government ensure that spent convictions legislation is compliant with the right to privacy under the ECHR and the right to be forgotten under GDPR.

IPRT welcomes the recommendations of Joint Committee report and the commitment from government to work alongside Senator Ruane towards enacting the 2018 Bill.

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