Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Questions (415)

Tony McLoughlin

Question:

415. Deputy Tony McLoughlin asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if he is prepared to give consideration to a change to the current Garda vetting system whereby if a member of the public is charged with an offence and this charge is struck out, withdrawn or section 11 of the Probation Act is imposed by the District Court this offence still remains on the Garda PULSE system resulting in some cases in having a long-term effect on an individual seeking employment opportunities; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11813/14]

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Written answers (Question to Justice)

Elements of the National Vetting Bureau (Children and Vulnerable Persons) Act 2012 relating to the disclosure of convictions are under review at present having regard to a recent judgment of the UK Court of Appeal in (On the Application of) T and others v Chief Constable of Greater Manchester [2013]. The UK Court considered the circumstances in which it is appropriate to disclose convictions for old, minor offences with particular regard to Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Having considered the judgement in that case, I intend bringing proposals before the Oireachtas to provide that certain old minor convictions will not be disclosed under the provisions of the 2012 Act. Given the close relationship between this Act and the Spent Convictions Bill, which is before the Oireachtas at the moment, any changes to the Vetting Act will have to be reflected in the Spent Convictions Bill. The amendment of the Vetting Act will also be done via the Spent Convictions Bill.

The National Vetting Bureau (Children & Vulnerable Persons) Act 2012 also sets out procedures to allow the disclosure of “Specified information”. This is information other than a criminal conviction record. For example, “specified information” could include details of offences which have been struck out, withdrawn or where the Probation Act has been applied by the court. Such information could only be disclosed if the information provides a bona-fide reason to believe that the person would pose a threat of harm to a child or vulnerable adult. The Act also provides that a disclosure of such information must be assessed for its reliability and relevance, and the disclosure must be in accordance with principles of natural justice. For example, if a person had been charged with an offence of assault or sexual assault, but the Probation Act provisions were applied, then that information could be considered for disclosure. The procedures set out in the Act are designed to ensure that the human rights of the person being vetted are adequately protected. It is important to note that before specified information can be disclosed, the person who is the subject of the information must be given a copy of that information and must be given the opportunity to challenge the proposed disclosure. The Act provides for the appointment of an independent Appeals Officer who will be responsible for assessing and deciding appeals against the proposed disclosure of specified information. The Act also provides that a decision of an Appeals Officer may be appealed to the High Court, on a point of law.

I expect to be in a position to commence the provisions of the 2012 Act in the autumn of 2014. In the meantime, the vetting of persons working with children and vulnerable persons continues to be done on a non-statutory basis.