Irish Penal Reform Trust

IPRT Submission to the Public Consultation on Spent Convictions

9th November 2020

IPRT has long advocated for an effective spent convictions scheme in Ireland that allows people who have stopped offending move on with their lives. Having a criminal record can present a barrier to those protective factors that support desistance from offending, including, inter alia, employment, education and training, housing, and volunteering. Given this, we welcomed the launch of the public consultation on spent convictions policy by Minister for Justice Helen McEntee TD.

A criminal record can amount to lifelong punishment that is disproportionate to the gravity of the offending behaviour and often has the effect of compounding economic and social exclusion. By excluding people with convictions from the labour market, society loses skills and talent while paying costs associated with a lack of productivity. On the other hand, more expansive schemes of expungement can support safer communities, improve access to the labour market, and interrupt intergenerational cycles of offending.

Although data is not available on the number of people who carry convictions in Ireland, research in Scotland and in England & Wales estimates that a third of the adult male population and one in 10 adult females has a convictions history. Therefore, IPRT welcomes that the Department is engaging in a public consultation on the issue, given the significant potential benefit and wide relevance to the general population.

Core to the spirit of rehabilitation is the principle that any person who has demonstrated their commitment to move on from offending through the completion of a conviction-free period should be able to benefit. Ireland has so far lagged behind in this regard compared to other countries. This is now an opportunity to lead the way in rehabilitative legislation, and transform lives and communities positively.

IPRT's submission to the consultation considers: 

  1. Limitations of current legislation
  2. Eligibility: Sentence length limits for spent convictions
  3. Eligibility: Number of convictions that can be considered spent
  4. Rehabilitative Periods: Principle of proportionality
  5. Incorporating a distinct approach to young adults
  6. Eligibility: Exclusions and Review Mechanisms
  7. Equality Legislation and Privacy
  8. Consideration of potential concerns of victims and survivors of crime

IPRT recommendations are as follows:

  1. Reintroduce the Criminal Justice (Rehabilitative Periods) Bill 2018 as amended, 20th November 2019.
  2. Increase the upper limit of eligible sentences to a minimum of 48 months custodial sentence, and introduce a review mechanism by which convictions that are not eligible for automatic expungement may become spent on a case-by-case basis.
  3. Remove the limit on the number of eligible convictions that can become spent.
  4. Develop a proportionate scale that links the rehabilitative period to the severity of the sentence imposed.
  5. Treat young adults as a distinct cohort within the legislation, including providing for shorter rehabilitative periods.
  6. Any decision to exclude any broad category of offence or area of employment must be justified by empirical evidence. Establish an independent oversight committee to review decisions to disclose convictions information.
  7.  Extend the grounds of discrimination in the Employment Equality Act 1998 and the Equal Status Act 2000 to include a broad prohibition on discrimination on the grounds of convictions. Section 55 of the Charities Act 2009 should be amended to reduce disproportionate barriers for people with convictions from participating on charitable boards.
  8. Changes to the legislation should be accompanied by a public information campaign.

Read the IPRT Submission to the Public Consultation on Spent Convictions in full here or download it below.

IPRT's statement on the publication of the submission is available here.

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