Home > Dail Eireann debate. Priority question 2 - Spent convictions legislation [7857/17].

[Oireachtas] Dail Eireann debate. Priority question 2 - Spent convictions legislation [7857/17]. (16 Feb 2017)

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2. Deputy Jonathan O'Brien asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality her plans to review legislation on spent convictions; and her further plans to introduce new legislation to expand the range of convictions that fall under the terms of the legislation. [7857/17] 

Deputy Jonathan O'Brien: I wish to ask the Minister about spent convictions and if there are future plans in that regard. 

Deputy Frances Fitzgerald: The spent convictions legislation is relatively recent as the Act dates to 2016. It provides for certain convictions to become spent once seven years has passed since the date of conviction. Under the provisions of the Act, the following convictions which are more than seven years old are now deemed spent, namely, all convictions in the District Court for motoring offences, with the proviso that spent convictions for dangerous driving are limited to a single conviction, and all convictions in the District Court for minor public order offences. 

The purpose of the legislation is to provide that persons who have made a mistake by committing a minor offence in the past and paid the price, can move on with their lives after the appropriate time and that such persons will not be held back. The Act was commenced in full on 29 April 2016 and it would be sensible to review it after a reasonable period, as Deputies have approached me about other changes they would like to see. The Act will be liable for post-enactment scrutiny at the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality. That is something which can be done under the new Dáil procedures. I welcome such an approach. It is early days for the legislation but it is important for the committee to examine it when it is in a position to do so. I always take the recommendations from the committee very seriously and I am happy to look at it if it is on the rogramme of work. 

Deputy Jonathan O'Brien: Unfortunately, it is not on our work programme at the moment. I accept the legislation is very new. Prior to the enactment of the Bill I tabled a number of amendments. The Bill provides primarily for motoring offences and minor convictions but, given the current debate on drugs for personal use we are moving away from a criminal justice model to a public health model for dealing with addiction. Unfortunately, if a young person, or someone who is not so young, is convicted of possession for personal use - I refer to very small amounts - the conviction hangs over the individual for the rest of his or her days. I would like to see any review take into account the fact that we are now moving to a new public health model in terms of drug use. 

Deputy Frances Fitzgerald: The main purpose of the spent convictions legislation is to give people a second chance. We have had very careful consideration of which offences should go into the first tranche of the legislation. Clearly, there is an emerging debate in respect of the Deputy's point about drugs and a greater focus on health and rehabilitation. I take the point he makes. The Minister of State with responsibility for drugs would have to consider it. I would want to hear what her view on it was and look at the evidence but the intention behind spent convictions is to give people a second chance. We have begun applying it to certain areas in this legislation. I have no doubt it will be extended at a later point but we would need to examine the implications of that proposal. 

Deputy Jonathan O'Brien: Not examining it means that somebody who may have had a minor conviction for possession of drugs while they were in the throes of addiction but who has now gone through rehabilitation and is no longer addicted to and using drugs has a criminal record for the rest of his or her life. If we are serious about not only dealing with drug use as a public issue but giving people a second opportunity, it is essential that people who have gone through the very tough process of rehabilitation are not labelled and stigmatised for the rest of their days. I hope the Minister of State with responsibility for drugs policy, Deputy Catherine Byrne, could look at this in respect of the formulation of the new national drugs strategy. Ultimately, it will come down to the Department of Justice and Equality in respect of spent convictions.


Deputy Frances Fitzgerald: Under the provisions of the Criminal Justice (Spent Convictions and Certain Disclosures) Act, only a single conviction under the Misuse of Drugs Acts is eligible to become spent. A range of issues arises if a person has multiple convictions for drugs in terms of these convictions becoming spent. We would have to consider very carefully whether we should allow a greater number of drugs offences to become spent. I take the Deputy's generic point about rehabilitation and people getting a chance to move on but I am mindful that under section 3 of the Misuse of Drugs Act, the penalties for a third offence of possession of drugs is a sentence of up to three years imprisonment so that is-----


Deputy Jonathan O'Brien: That never happens.

Deputy Frances Fitzgerald: That is what is in the law. It does not sound to me as if these are exactly equivalent to District Court offences. I would like the Committee on Justice and Equality to examine the issue.

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