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Criminal Justice (Spent Convictions) Bill 2012 [Seanad]: Second Stage (Resumed) (Continued)

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 796 No. 3

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Michael Healy-Rae: Information on Michael Healy-Rae Zoom on Michael Healy-Rae] It is all about jobs. It is about helping people get back to work, which is where they should be, and allowing those who made errors in the past get back into the mainstream workforce if they are fortunate enough to be able to do so.

I appreciate the opportunity to speak on the Bill. I hope it might be tweaked in the future to address the anomalies identified by Members. I took note of the excellent contributions made by other Members also. I thank the Technical Group for allowing me the time to speak on the Bill.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Peter Mathews): Information on Peter Mathews Zoom on Peter Mathews I call Deputy Dara Murphy who I understand is sharing time with Deputies Fitzpatrick and Harris.

Deputy Dara Murphy: Information on Dara Murphy Zoom on Dara Murphy That is correct.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Peter Mathews): Information on Peter Mathews Zoom on Peter Mathews Is Deputy Marcella Corcoran Kennedy sharing-----

Deputy Dara Murphy: Information on Dara Murphy Zoom on Dara Murphy Perhaps not, but-----

Acting Chairman (Deputy Peter Mathews): Information on Peter Mathews Zoom on Peter Mathews If she does not arrive the Deputies have approximately seven minutes each.

Deputy Dara Murphy: Information on Dara Murphy Zoom on Dara Murphy Like others, I too welcome the opportunity to speak on the Bill and the open-minded approach the Minister, Deputy Shatter, has taken to it. Already, he has accepted some amendments in the Seanad. He is a Minister who is prepared to listen to Members on both sides of the House to determine if legislation can be tweaked or improved.

I agree with some of the suggestions made by other speakers, although I disagree with others. I got a letter from a constituent who is 34 years of age. As he describes it, he has a record as long as his arm for stupid mistakes which he made in his late teens and up to the age of 21. He never received a custodial sentence but had a succession of minor offences, and the Probation Act was applied on what he describes as a few times, which would imply more than twice. He has since changed his life and has had no conviction for a lengthy period. However, as things stand, his record is not clean and he says it hangs over him like a cloud when applying for a job. He is constantly waiting for the issue to be made public or highlighted in some way.

An amendment was tabled in the Seanad which dealt with people convicted of more than one offence. The Bill now refers to two offences. One of the Labour Party Deputies mentioned a person who had a number of convictions for a motor offence. Under section 2(4), if there is a number of convictions for the same incident, that can be treated as one conviction but I understand that even though this particular individual's crimes are relatively minor and for which they only received the Probation Act, because he has more than two offences he will not be able to have his record wiped clear. Bearing in mind that two 12 months custodial sentences can be wiped clear, the Minister might revisit that in terms of people who may have a succession of relatively minor offences.

There is a liberal feel to this legislation and a clear ambition to allow people get on with their lives. However, it is important that we do not forget that there are victims at the other side of most crimes. It is vital that the strong element of the preventative nature of sentencing is protected and that there is a strong sense in all legislation, and within all court processes, that if someone is convicted they must pay a price for the crime they have committed. It is a weakness in the Bill if somebody who may have committed a number of minor offences - it appears to be two in the Bill - cannot then have their record cleared.

The second issue about which I have concern is in section 6, and it is to do with court proceedings. Section 1 states that no evidence of a spent conviction is admissible in court proceedings and that no question can be asked regarding a spent conviction, and if asked, it need not be answered. I have difficulty with that. Section 2 is contradictory in that if justice demands it, the question can be asked but that must be clarified, particularly in the area of sentencing. I understand that the section provides that a witness's spent conviction cannot be called back to suggest that the validity of their testimony as a witness is not as bona fide by virtue of the fact that they have a previous conviction, but if somebody who has committed a number of crimes is then convicted, when it comes to sentencing the spent conviction should then be expunged and the judge should be able to say, "We gave you the benefit of the doubt. You had the convictions. You had a period where your record was wiped clean, but you are now back before me. You have been convicted, and I must take the fact that you were convicted in the past into account when I am sentencing."

I welcome the provisions in respect of other areas. On the area of Garda clearance, a constituent of mine required Garda clearance to take up a position in the European Commission. Even though the person had a clear record, it appears the documentation we provide here is not of a type that is acceptable to employers within Europe. If we are going as far as providing for people's records to be wiped clean, we should also beef up our documentation for everybody trying to provide evidence with respect to jobs.

Deputy Peter Fitzpatrick: Information on Peter Fitzpatrick Zoom on Peter Fitzpatrick The spent convictions Bill provides for non-disclosure of certain convictions where a person has not re-offended for a certain period of time. The Bill is intended to assist people with convictions by removing the requirement that they disclose past convictions when applying for a job. However, there are a number of exceptions to the general rules. For example, convictions for serious offences such as murder, manslaughter and rape, and convictions of sexual offences, may never become spent. Also, convictions resulting in a jail sentence of more than 12 months may not become spent. Furthermore, anyone seeking to work with children or vulnerable adults or in a sensitive position in the civil or public service will have to disclose their convictions. It applies to adults, and provides a non-disclosure regime similar to that applying to children under section 258 of the Children Act 2001.

The Bill applies to prison sentences of 12 months or less, or to lesser penalties such as the imposition of community services or fines. It is self-administered. A person does not need to apply to have a conviction declared spent.

Sexual offences and other serious offences that fall to be tried by the Central Criminal Court are excluded from the purview of the Bill. No more than two convictions during an individual's life may become spent.

The conviction free period that must be served before a conviction will become spent ranges from two years for a small fine to five years for a one year jail sentence. Anyone seeking to work with or provide services, for example, care and accommodation, to children under 18 or vulnerable adults will have to disclose their convictions.

A range of employments, including those relating to the security of the State, the administration of justice and other sensitive positions, are excluded from the provisions of the Bill. Convictions will have to be disclosed when applying for certain licences such as taxi licences, private security licences etc.

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