While most of the talk today was about the dissolution of the Dáil and Seanad ahead of the next election, there were some last minute matters still being resolved.
Among these is legislation which may benefit some cannabis users that have a conviction. I am referring to the Criminal Justice (Spent Convictions and Certain Disclosures) Bill 2012 which is also known as ‘Spent Convictions’ legislation.
The Criminal Justice (Spent Convictions and Certain Disclosures) Bill 2012 was passed in the Dáil last Wednesday (27th January) before being passed in the Seanad today. The legislation has been sent to President Michael D. Higgins and becomes law once he signs it.
Before today Ireland was the only EU state without such legislation. As the title of the law suggests the process has been underway since before 2012. During that period it looked like the legislation would be passed only for it to be stalled on more than one occasion.
However today’s actions mean its one of the last measures to be introduced by the outgoing government. Other legislation such as the Technological Universities Bill 2015 and the Criminal Justice (Sexual Offences) Bill 2015 weren’t as fortunate and have been killed off
So what are spent convictions?
Such legislation helps remove some of the barriers that exist for the successful reintegration into society of former offenders and prisoners.
As the Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) states “certain minor convictions more than 7 years old will become ‘spent’ and no longer have to be declared, thus removing barriers to employment, education, training, housing and insurance for tens of thousands of people in Ireland who have moved on from past offending behaviour.”
Once it becomes law the following convictions may become spent after 7 years:
- Convictions for certain minor motoring and public order offences received in the district court, for which the sanction received was less than a 12-month custodial sentence or 24-month suspended sentence not subsequently revoked. There is no limit to the number of these convictions that become spent after 7 years.
- One other conviction received in the district or circuit court, for which the sanction received was less than a 12-month custodial sentence or 24-month suspended sentence not subsequently revoked.
- A number of exclusions and conditions apply. For example, convictions for sexual offences are excluded from the scheme, and convictions for insurance fraud have to be disclosed in specified circumstances.
If you want to see the legislation in full then click here
Groups such as the Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) have been advocating for such legislation for over a decade. In their press release on today’s news the Executive Director Deirdre Malone said:
“Thousands of people in Ireland with old convictions have demonstrated that they want to move on with their lives – go to work, volunteer, contribute to their communities. This legislation will realise that goal for many people, but it is disappointing that it did not go further. We will be asking the next Government to review the operation of the spent convictions legislation in the future in order to ensure that it fully supports the rehabilitation and reintegration of those with previous convictions.”
The IPRT have already highlighted that they will undertake “a review of the operation of the legislation in future with a view to widening its reach”.
The IPRT believes the legislation could have been strengthened through the following measures:
- Raising the limit on the type of custodial sentence that is eligible to become spent from <12 months to <30 months (in line with Northern Ireland) or <48 months (in line with England and Wales)
- Removing the cap on the number of convictions that may become spent: IPRT maintains that it is the length of time since a person offended and not the number of times they may have offended in the past that indicates the likelihood of reoffending.
- Retaining a proportionate relationship between the nature of the sanction and the rehabilitation period: the blanket 7-year rehabilitative period for all sanctions, whether a small fine or a sentence of up to 12 months in prison, is disproportionate.
It was stated in the Dáil on the 27th January by the Minister for Justice and Equality Frances Fitzgerald that the legislation should be operational by early April 2016.
While the new law is limited it is certainly long overdue and can be seen as progress, even if minor. Hopefully lobbying by groups like IPRT and Help Not Harm to the next government will see the legislation made more effective.
Please visit the IPRT FAQ section for more. Alternatively you can contact IPRT directly if you think you might benefit from such legislation but have questions.
Organisations such as FLAC may also be of assistance for those wanting to know more.