Thursday, 11 July 2019
Parole Bill 2016: Committee and Remaining Stages
I move amendment No. 2:
In page 14, between lines 29 and 30, to insert the following:“(7) A person who, by virtue of subsection (4), is not qualified, or has ceased, to be a member of the Board may apply to the High Court for an order that he or she may hold the position of member of the Board, and the High Court may, upon such an application, make such an order if it considers that it would be in the public interest for it to make such an order.”.
I thank the Minister of State for coming before the Seanad. I welcome the Bill and the fact that our parole system will soon be placed on a strong statutory footing. Parole is an absolutely fundamental and necessary part of the rehabilitative nature of our criminal justice system. I welcome the work done in this area by Deputy O'Callaghan and the fact that the Bill has been accepted and brought through the Houses by the Government.
Section 12 sets out the provisions relating to the resignation, removal and disqualification from, and ineligibility for, the Parole Board to be established on a statutory footing by the Bill. The Parole Board is the body that will be given responsibility to adjudicate on parole applications. It is the beating heart of this legislation and the main means by which its rehabilitative aims will be realised and implemented. Therefore, the membership and shared competencies and experiences of the board are a crucial balance to get right to ensure this system works well and fairly for those applying for parole. I note the obvious work done in section 10, which sets out detailed provisions on membership, the bodies that will nominate members, etc. I am concerned, however, by the provision in section 12 relating to the disqualification of members, in particular by subsection 4, which states that anyone who is convicted of an offence will be disqualified, with no opportunity to appeal or recourse to challenge that decision.
As the Minister of State will be aware, I have a keen interest in the issue of spent convictions and criminal record disclosures and I have legislation in this regard pending before the Houses. My view is that a provision relating to someone's suitability for a role such as this in the context of his or her criminal record must have regard to his or her individual circumstances, proportionality and a recognition of the value of someone with experience of a conviction to this parole process. This is the spirt in which I have tabled this amendment. It is a near identical provision to section 55 of the Charities Act 2009, which allows for someone with a criminal record to apply to become a member of a charity board through the High Court if it is deemed in the public interest. For example, if a former offender wished to serve on the board of the Irish Penal Reform Trust, it would obviously be in the public interest to have someone with that experience on the board considering the work it does. I therefore ask simply that the same provision be made in this Bill. Arguably, the need for diverse experiences within the criminal justice system is even greater than the need for such experiences on the board of a charity. The amendment would allow someone with a conviction to apply to the High Court for an order to serve on the Parole Board if deemed in the public interest. I would like this parole adjudication process to be fully inclusive and I do not want the disproportionate blanket ban contained in subsection (4) to act as a barrier to the contribution of valuable experiences to this process. I hope the Minister can accept the amendment.