I am just acknowledging the shaming that happened last week in the Chamber.
I welcome the Bill to the House. It is relatively straightforward, enacting in Irish law a 2009 Council decision relating to the exchange of criminal record information between EU member states through the European criminal records information system, more commonly referred to as ECRIS. It provides for the exchange and format of such information and is an important part of record sharing between countries in this important area. The primary policy underpinning the Bill is that there needs to be a certain form of equivalence in the methods by which information on foreign recognition of convictions are transmitted between members states, in line with general European principles of equal treatment for European citizens in different member states insofar as is possible. It is very much in this spirit that I table my two amendments.
As the Minister will be aware, I have conducted considerable work in the Seanad on spent convictions and on legislating for the circumstances under which a criminal record must and should be disclosed, having regard to the interests of the public and the privacy rights of the individual in this regard when deciding the balance. I am grateful to the Minister and his Government for their support for this legislation as it has progressed through the House. As the Minister will also be aware, we essentially have two different schemes for spent convictions in Irish law: a general regime under the Criminal Justice (Spent Convictions and Certain Disclosures) Act 2016, which can apply to District Court and Circuit Court convictions, and a specific regime for Garda vetting under section 14A of the National Vetting Bureau Act 2012, which applies to District Court convictions. The general rule is that after seven years, and without reoffending, a single conviction can come off one's record. A problem arises, however, where an Irish national receives a conviction in another member state and that information is transmitted to the Garda through ECRIS. As no account is made for foreign convictions in our domestic law, one can receive a conviction in another EU country that if one were to be convicted of here would qualify to become spent. As a result of this gap in our laws, however, that conviction will never qualify to become spent, no matter how minor the crime. In a Bill that at its very heart provides for the principle of European communication, equivalence and equality of treatment between how convictions are recorded in member states, this is a major gap in the Bill and must be addressed.
As an example of this in action, I was recently contacted by a constituent, following the passage through Committee Stage of my Private Members' Bill in this area, who had had this exact issue. While on Erasmus as a young undergraduate student in the Netherlands and at a difficult time in his personal life, he engaged in extremely minor shoplifting to the value of €5. Despite immediately repaying the value and being released from custody on the same day, the student received a €100 fine and a misdemeanour-style conviction, the lowest form of penalty under the Dutch penal code. This conviction is clearly equivalent to a District Court conviction and if received in Ireland would clearly be eligible to become spent after a period of non-offending under our laws. When it was transmitted to the Irish authorities, however, my constituent was informed there will never be an opportunity for this extraordinarily minor conviction to become spent as there is no recognition of this when the information is being transmitted. There is therefore clearly a problem here. My constituent then contacted the Dutch policing authority about having the record expunged on the Dutch end. However, because the Netherlands takes a different legislative approach to record expungement, which is embedded in privacy rights and involves certificates of good behaviour, etc., an approach more common in countries that do not use common law, he was told that because there was not an equivalent in the legislative framework used here in Ireland, the Irish authorities could never view his conviction as spent, and that even if same was transmitted to the Irish authorities, they would still refuse to treat it as such.
This is my motivation for tabling amendment No. 1, which creates a recognition of foreign convictions and allows for such convictions as received by my constituent to be spent. It is simply not fair or proportionate for him to be disadvantaged for his entire adult life, particularly as he enters the labour market, for an extraordinarily minor infraction that if it were to happen in Ireland would be eligible to become spent.
If this Bill intends to deal comprehensively with European equivalency and equality of treatment in the area, this major flaw in the legislation could be fixed with my amendment. I urge the Minister to take the opportunity to fix this gap.