Submission on Spent Convictions, 17/1/13

Blog, 17 January 2013

MLRC Submission on Criminal Justice (Spent Convictions) Bill 2012

 

Mercy Law Resource Centre (MLRC) has today published its submission on the Criminal Justice (Spent Convictions) Bill 2012.

MLRC welcomes the introduction of the proposed spent conviction scheme which permits individuals with a minor criminal conviction, after the lapse of a prescribed period of time, to have that conviction regarded as “spent”.  There are a number of exclusions and limitations to the scheme which have been comprehensively addressed in other submission papers.  MLRC’s submission focuses on the purpose and effectiveness of the proposed scheme.

The primary objective of the present Bill relates to alleviating barriers to employment; MLRC advocates its extension to the provision of public funded housing by local authorities.

The purpose of such housing is to provide support for people who need housing but cannot afford to rent or buy their own homes and is therefore vital in combating homelessness.   In a survey conducted by the Central Statistics Office in 2011, it was revealed that there are 3,808 persons in homeless shelter accommodation or sleeping rough.  Research by Focus Ireland and PACE revealed that there was a link between homelessness and crime/reoffending.  For some, being homeless led to crime while for others it was being released from prison that led directly to homelessness.

The link between homelessness and crime cannot be ignored if either is going to be successfully tackled.  Current legislation in the form of sections 14 and 15 of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1997, and local authority policy allow for the exclusion of persons from availing of social housing on estate management grounds as a result of information received from the Gardaí.  Such information can include minor offences, cautions, investigations without charge and dismissals under the Probation Act 1907 without regard to the Constitutional and European Convention on Human Rights principles of fairness and proportionality.

MLRC acknowledge that the contribution that good estate management makes to communities is invaluable. This can be partly achieved through appropriate estate management checks with the Gardaí, however, the information disclosed must be proportionate to the aim and in accordance with the law, in particular, the requirements of natural justice and fair procedures.

The dissemination of information without regard to its seriousness, accuracy or relevance and the failure to differentiate sufficiently between different types of behaviour is a clear violation of the principle of proportionality which is recognized by European Convention on Human Rights jurisprudence as applying to actions which interfere with a person’s right to a home.  A more proportionate approach would provide that instead of a blanket disclosure policy, only information relating to ‘unspent’ convictions could be disclosed to local authorities.  This would protect the presumption of innocence and adhere to fair procedures.

MLRC’s recommendations can be summarised as follows:

1. MLRC recommends that a provision be inserted in the Bill stating that:

  • Where the vetting of persons who seek positions of employment relating to children or vulnerable persons is concerned, the Spent Convictions Bill should be read in conjunction with the Vetting Bill;
  • In all other cases, the Gardaí (or any other body with access to such information) should only disclose convictions which are ‘unspent’; and
  • Information relating to cautions, investigations without charge, and dismissals under the Probation Act 1907 should not be disclosed in any circumstances, with the exception of those covered by the Vetting Bill.

2. MLRC recommends that in order for the Bill to be effective in practice, an independent body with enforcement powers should be set up to investigate any complaints made under the legislation.  In the alternative, the ambit of the offices of the DPC should be extended to ensure the provisions in the Bill are observed.

3. MLRC recommends that the grounds of discrimination in the Employment Equality Act 1988 and the Equal Status Act 2000 be extended to include a broad discrimination on discrimination on the grounds of criminal convictions.

If you would like to read a full copy of our submission, please click here.

If you would like more information on the work of Mercy Law Resource Centre please see our website at www.mercylaw.ie.

 

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