Wednesday, 3 February 2016
Criminal Justice (Spent Convictions and Certain Disclosures) Bill 2012: [Seanad Bill amended by the Dáil] Report and Final Stages
This is a Seanad Bill which has been amended by the Dáil. In accordance with Standing Order 118, it is deemed to have passed its First, Second and Third Stages in the Seanad and is placed on the Order Paper for Report Stage. On the question, "That the Bill be received for final consideration", the Minister may explain the purpose of the amendments made by the Dáil. This is looked upon as the report of the Dáil amendments to the Seanad. For Senators' convenience, I have arranged for the printing and circulation of the amendments. The Minister will deal separately with each related group of amendments. I have also circulated the proposed grouping in the House. Senators may speak only once on each grouping. I remind Senators that the only matters that may be discussed are the amendments made by the Dáil.
These are minor drafting amendments required to make provision for the Bill to amend the Betting Act 2012 and to harmonise the wording of the Bill with that of the Act. I also propose to make a very minor amendment to the section of the Garda Síochána Act related to vetting.
These are minor drafting amendments. In order to have an orderly structure in the Bill, we are creating three parts of the Bill - Preliminary and General, Spent Convictions and Amendments of Act of 2012. Throughout the Bill, therefore, we have to amend various references to the Act and substitute the word "Part".
The amendments under sections 11, 16, 17, 18, 54, 62 and 67 are the most substantive amendments being made to the Bill. In March 2015, I advised the Seanad that I intended bringing amendments to both the Criminal Justice (Spent Convictions) Bill 2012 and the National Vetting Bureau (Children and Vulnerable Persons) Act 2012. We needed to amend both of these because of a UK Court of Appeal decision in R (T) v.Greater Manchester Chief Constable (CA). The UK appeal found that the indiscriminate disclosure of all old minor criminal records is incompatible with Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights. It must be based on the principle of relevance and proportionality and there must be a degree of coherence between the legislation providing for spent convictions and any legislation providing for disclosure of criminal convictions for employment purposes. Put simply, any offences excluded from vetting disclosures because they are not relevant should also be spent convictions. That is the key change being made.
There is also a change in regard to the District Court. Section 54 provides that the following District Court convictions will not be disclosed by the Garda vetting unit: motoring offences more than seven years old, with the proviso that dangerous driving convictions are limited to a single conviction, and minor public order offences more than seven years old. Where a person has only one District Court conviction, other than motoring or public order convictions, that conviction will also not be disclosed after seven years. There are some exemptions in terms of convictions for sexual offences and the bona fide concern if a person would pose a threat to a child.
These are the substantive changes in the Bill and other than these, there are only minor drafting amendments to the other sections.
I thank the Minister for reading that explanation in the House. It was important to do so because group 6, in particular, dealt with some substantive changes to the Bill that were debated in the Dáil. I know there was some concern, particularly from the Irish Penal Reform Trust, regarding the fact that only one conviction can be spent. However, I accept that as the Minister said, there are significant exceptions to that rule. These are welcome and will undoubtedly assist many people. These are the exceptions pointed out by the Minister - that public order offences and most driving offences are exempted from the provision that only one conviction may be spent. I know there are some exceptions included in Schedule 1 regarding sexual offences. This is welcome, because like many colleagues I have received communications from individuals who are anxious to see this Bill enacted because it will give them greatly improved prospects for employment and rehabilitation.
I thank the Minister for raising these substantive points. I accept that most of the amendments we are dealing with today are technical and there to deal with the vetting legislation, but it was worth hearing the Minister's comments on the more substantive amendments and I thank her for them.
I listened to the tributes being paid earlier and I take this opportunity to thank all Senators for their constructive engagement on all of the legislation that has come before them, particularly their constructive engagement with me during my time as Minister for Children and Minister for Justice and Equality. I thank them and also thank the leaders, the Cathaoirleach and the Leas-Chathaoirleach. I wish the very best to those Senators who are retiring from the House and thank them for the serious contributions they have made during their time here. It has always been a pleasure to work with Senators in the House.
I welcome this Bill, which is another example of the Seanad being constructive and doing what is right. We have all dealt with people over the years who might have committed a minor offence in their teenage years and that has come back to haunt them later in life, especially in the context of the Garda vetting system. It is desperate that some people who have a small offence on their record find themselves unable to get into the United States and so forth. The legislation is welcome in that regard.
The Leas-Chathaoirleach was not in the Chair earlier, so I take the opportunity now to thank him for his courtesy and support and to wish him well in the forthcoming election. I also take this opportunity to acknowledge that the Minister here has been one of the best, if not the best, performers in the Seanad. She was my local Deputy at one stage when I was a student in UCD and when she represented Dublin South-East. We were very proud then to have somebody of the calibre of Frances Fitzgerald as our local Deputy. I am delighted and feel it has been a distinguished part of my career to have served as spokesperson on justice in this House with her as such an able and reforming Minister for Justice and Equality. She is somebody who will, as a result of the legislation she has put through the Houses, make a real difference to the lives of people in this country.
I join with colleagues in welcoming the passing of this important legislation. During the Order of Business, when we were saying our few words, I forgot to mention the Deputy Leader of the House, Senator Bacik. She has become an honorary Cavan person during the course of this Seanad and she is very welcome to citizenship of that great county. I wish to pay tribute to her now. We do not agree on a lot of issues, but that is the essence of democracy.
These past five years have passed very quickly. Just five years ago, the Minister was standing in the very position I am in now. Since then, she has served in Cabinet as Minister for Children and Youth Affairs. She was an excellent Minister and the first Minister for Children at senior level in the history of the State. She moved on to become Minister for Justice and Equality and has excelled in that position. Who knows what the next five years have in store for her. During the last Seanad, she was ably assisted by another young person who is now a Minister of State, Deputy Simon Harris. Time brings change and five years have brought significant change in the case of the Minister and the country, though perhaps not all were for the best.
It has been a privilege to have represented the Leas-Chathaoirleach when he was not available as spokesperson on justice and it has been a privilege to serve in this House opposite the Minister. I wish her well for the future and look forward hopefully to working together with her for the next five years.
I welcome this Bill as an important piece of progressive penal reform. I compliment the Minister on all the work she has done and echo the comments made by Senators Conway and Wilson.She is an able and reforming Minister and she has always been so courteous and easy to deal with. I thank her for allowing so many Bills to start in the Seanad, which is important. She has steered through many significant justice Bills and this is just one of them. This is very progressive; for the first time in the history of the State, adults with convictions will be able to have those convictions considered spent. I really welcome the fact that this will apply to anybody who has a conviction with a sentence of up to 12 months. We should not forget that the original proposal was much more conservative. I welcome the legislation and thank the Minister for bringing it here. I also thank her officials, who have worked so hard. It has been a pleasure to work with officials in the Department of Justice and Equality over the past five years.
I thank Senators Conway and O'Donovan, my colleagues from the Seanad on the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality, along with Senator Zappone. We have worked very well together on justice matters and we have had much work to do over the past five years. The justice committee has been described as the Bruce Springsteen of committees, hard-working and under-reported. We have done much work with the Minister, and I thank her for that. I forgot to thank the Whips, Senators Wilson, Hayden and Coghlan, but it has been great to work with them. The Bacik family connection in Cavan was mentioned, and it is nice to be related, even on an honorary basis.
I thank Senators. Senator Bacik mentioned the officials; Mr. David Brennan, who is with me today, has worked on this legislation for eight years. There is much unseen work that goes on in Departments in the preparation of legislation. Ms Mary O'Sullivan has joined Mr. Brennan in more recent years. It has been a long passage for this legislation, so I thank Senators for making sure it will pass through the Houses of the Oireachtas today.
I thank the Minister, as normally I am at the front line as spokesman for justice matters. Acting as Leas-Chathaoirleach, I must leave aside my political cloak, but I thank the Minister anyway. I have already wished her luck as, although politics is a difficult terrain, I have no doubt she will be back again. I thank the Minister's officials for the great work done. Politics is a rotating business and can be like musical chairs; we do not know who will be back or when. We have got this important piece of legislation through the House.