The Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence has published the long awaited Criminal Justice (Spent Convictions) Bill 2012 which will in certain circumstances allow offenders with minor past convictions to “wipe the slate clean”, potentially making it easier for them to access employment.
The Law Reform Commission and organisations such as Business in the Community Ireland have long called for legislation to assist the rehabilitation of offenders through improved employment opportunities. While prospective employees in Ireland are not, save in specific regulated fields of work, required to undergo criminal background checking, in practice many employers ask applicants to disclose their criminal history, potentially creating a bar to employment.
The Bill, when enacted, will bring Ireland in line with the majority of EU member states, including the UK which has similar legislation in place since 1974. It provides that convictions which carry custodial sentences of 12 months or less, or lesser penalties, such as community service or fines, will be ‘spent’ in circumstances where the person remains conviction free for a set period of time. The ‘conviction free’ periods range from three years (for a small fine) to seven years (for a 12 month prison sentence). In respect of each person, no more than two convictions may be declared spent.
Where a person is asked a question regarding prior convictions, he is free to disregard the spent conviction in his answer without incurring any liability. Furthermore no evidence of a spent conviction is admissible in court, save where the court is of the view that justice demands it. In such circumstances, the court must take such steps as are necessary to prevent or restrict publication of that evidence.
The process will be self-administered, i.e. it is for the person himself to decide if the conviction is spent and no application in this regard is necessary.
Persons convicted of sexual offences or offences that are tried in the Central Criminal Court will not be able to benefit from the new legislation. Furthermore, certain persons will still have to disclose convictions in certain circumstances, including:
- Those seeking to work in certain designated fields, including with children or in roles which relate to State security or the administration of justice
- Those who perform, or propose to take up employment in, certain ‘controlled functions’ in financially regulated service providers – as part of the Central Bank of Ireland’s ‘Fitness and Probity’ regime; and
- Those convicted of fraud, deceit or dishonesty in respect of insurance claims – when applying for insurance policies
The Bill was approved by Government on 1 May 2012 and its provisions will now be debated in the Oireachtas.
Contributed by Louise Harrison and John Magee