Criminal Justice (Spent Convictions) Bill 2012

PaulConnaughton-2-150x150

Thank you for the opportunity to speak on this Bill.

 

In decades past, the idea that Garda vetting had to be carried out before you could take up any position was unthinkable, yet it is now a fact of everyday life and that change in society must be reflected in terms of how previous convictions are dealt with and the length of the shadow that they can cast upon a person’s life.

 

Recent years have seen thousands of applications for Garda vetting submitted for organisations across a range of fields, as these organisations seek to ensure that everyone involved is aware of best practice in terms of safeguarding policies, has signed up to those policies and has been Garda vetted.

 

A number of years ago, someone who as a young man or woman ran into trouble and received a criminal conviction for a relatively minor offence, could live out the rest of their lives without their work colleagues being aware of this part of their past.  Of course, while the vast majority of such cases related to minor offences, there had to be cases in the past where, because colleagues were unaware of the extent or nature of a person’s previous convictions, they were allowed to work in an unsuitable context, perhaps with unsupervised access to children.

 

Recent decades have seen the lid lifted on the scandal of sexual abuse in Ireland, with revelations relating to every facet of life and have prompted the recognition that much stricter procedures must be put into place in terms of the suitability of people working with children and all employers, including voluntary groups, must have much greater awareness in terms of the previous convictions of all staff and volunteers.

 

This Bill I believe, strikes the proper balance between releasing people from the burden of convictions recorded many decades ago, while still ensuring that all people working with children are properly vetted and that in such instances, all previous criminal convictions must be detailed.

 

I note from this Bill that convictions for murder, manslaughter and rape, will never become spent under this measure, nor will convictions for sexual offences.  Given the high level of recidivism among sexual offenders, this is particularly welcome.  People who received sentences of over 12 months will also never be able to consider that those convictions are spent.

 

However, the most important element of this Bill is that anyone seeking to work with children or vulnerable adults or in sensitive positions in the civil or public service, will have to disclose their convictions.

 

Another important element of the Bill currently before the house is that the spent element of the conviction relates to the onus to disclose the conviction, as opposed to the conviction itself. The conviction remains on the person’s record.

 

Lest anyone fear that this Bill will allow career criminals to wipe the slate clean and apply for jobs among unsuspecting colleagues, it is worth remembering that only two convictions may be considered spent during a person’s life, so people with multiple convictions will have to disclose all convictions bar two and convictions of a serious nature will still have to be disclosed.  After two years a fine becomes spent, while it will take five years for a one year jail sentence to become spent.

 

The provision that people involved in work relating to the security of the state are excluded from the provisions of this Bill is also welcome, we cannot have a situation whereby those working in areas such as Customs and Excise have had serious criminal convictions in the past.

 

Another fear that many members of the public would have is that this Bill could allow serious criminals to take up jobs where they have access to members of the public where the public have a right to expect that their previous behaviour has been up to a certain standard.  The exclusion of licence holders such as taxi licence holders and private security licence holders from the provisions of this Bill is also to be welcomed in this context.

 

By introducing this Bill, Ireland is following the example of most other EU member states, which have enacted provisions to ensure that people convicted of offences in the distant past can move on and get on with their lives.

 

 

 

As Garda vetting increasingly becomes a part of everyday life, it is  important that people who had a conviction for an offence  from a previous chapter of their life, are not excluded for ever more from accessing employment and they are given the chance to prove their ability to a prospective employer.