I am pleased to present the Criminal Records (Exchange of Information) Bill 2019 to the House.
The purpose of this Bill is to provide for the exchange of criminal record information between Ireland and other EU member states. The Bill will transpose Framework Decision 2009/315/JHA on the organisation and content of the exchange of information extracted from the criminal records between member states. It will also transpose the associated Council Decision 2009/316/JHA on the establishment of the European criminal records information system, ECRIS, in application of Article Il of the framework decision, which provides for the format and other ways of organising and facilitating exchanges of information on convictions. These EU instruments provide for this information exchange between member states.
The key framework decision to be transposed within this Bill was developed and agreed at member state level in response to the wishes expressed by the European Council a number of years ago. At the time, it was agreed that significant value was to be derived from a system allowing the reliable exchange of criminal record information between member states, particularly in the context of free movement across borders. The need to share such information and the guiding principles for doing so form the basis of the relevant framework decision, while the format and detail involved in the transmission of criminal record information is set out in the associated relevant Council decision, which established ECRIS.
ECRIS was designed to achieve an efficient, uniform exchange of information on criminal convictions between EU member states and to ensure that an individual's criminal conviction was effectively communicated and stored regardless of where in the EU that person was convicted of the offence. The ECRIS Council decision implemented the principles underpinning its associated Council framework decision in order to build and develop a computerised system of exchange of information on convictions between member states. The framework decision required the establishment of "a standardised format allowing information to be exchanged in a uniform, electronic and easily computer-translatable way". The resulting ECRIS was ultimately established in April 2012 in order to improve this exchange of information on criminal records throughout the EU. All EU countries are currently connected to ECRIS.
The Criminal Records (Exchange of Information) Bill which I am introducing to the House today transposes these European instruments into Irish law. This system allows for the transfer of criminal record information between member states for use in criminal investigations and proceedings, and for other relevant proceedings and matters where the sharing of this information is warranted. It also creates a specific obligation on each member state to inform other member states when their citizens are convicted of criminal offences.
In a European area of freedom, security and justice, every effort must be made to ensure an effective European response to criminal activities, in particular serious cross-border crime and terrorism. The European agenda on security highlights the need to maximise EU measures on information exchange and operational co-operation. The rapid and efficient exchange of information extracted from criminal records between competent member state central authorities is important if we are to avoid national courts passing sentences on the sole basis of past convictions registered in national criminal records, with no knowledge of convictions in other member states, thus allowing criminals to escape their past by moving between member states. Within the ECRIS framework, each EU state is responsible for establishing a central authority for operating the information flow relating to criminal records within their state. The national vetting bureau, NVB, of An Garda Síochána has been designated as the central authority for Ireland. Pending legislation, the NVB exchanges this information with other member states on an administrative basis and in accordance with the framework decision. This Bill will put these procedures on a statutory basis.
The proposed Bill would not give the Garda new powers, but rather codify the procedures which apply to the exchange of criminal records information on EU nationals with other countries in the EU. Currently, the NVB conducts four core actions within this framework. It submits requests to the central authorities of other member states for extracts from their national criminal records in respect of nationals of the member state concerned in instances where the information is required in connection with criminal proceedings in this country; responds to requests from central authorities in other member states for extracts from Ireland's criminal records database in respect of Irish nationals, in instances where the information is required in connection with criminal proceedings in the other member state; receives, stores, and updates where necessary Ireland's criminal records database with relevant information received from central authorities in other member states in respect of Irish nationals convicted in those other member states; and transmits information, and any necessary updates, in respect of criminal convictions imposed in Ireland on all nationals of other EU member states to the central authority of that member state of the convicted person.
Something as sensitive as an individual's criminal record should be subject to the most stringent protections available when it comes to translating, transmitting, and using the information contained therein. The coming into force of the General Data Protection Regulation, GDPR, and the law enforcement directive have established new data protection standards and provided for significant reforms to previous data protection rules. Ireland's Data Protection Act 2018 has given effect to GDPR and transposed the law enforcement directive. The material impact of this new data protection regime on our careful transposition of this ECRIS framework and Council decisions has been considerable, and this Bill has been subject to extensive and detailed consultation with both the Office of the Attorney General and the European Commission over the past 12 to 18 months. I note that the Data Protection Act 2018, and the Data Protection Acts 1988 and 2003, as retained by the 2018 Act, apply to personal data held by the national vetting bureau in respect of any criminal record information that may be transmitted under the provisions of this Bill. This Bill and its parent framework decision also allow any person to obtain information on their own criminal record, and to have any incorrect data corrected or deleted.
I turn now to the contents and provisions of the Bill itself. The Criminal Records (Exchange of Information) Bill consists of fifteen sections and four schedules. Section 1 is a standard provision defining words and phrases used in the Act. Section 2 provides for the designation of a central authority as required by the framework decision. The Commissioner of An Garda Síochána is designated as the central authority. Section 3 provides for the recording, when available, of the nationality or nationalities of EU nationals who are convicted of an offence. This information is necessary to ensure relevant central authorities throughout the EU can have up-to-date information in relation to a person's convictions.
Section 4 provides that the Irish central authority, when available, must transmit criminal record information to the relevant central authority in the member state of a person's nationality. Any update and subsequent change, including deletion of this information, must also be transmitted to the relevant member state's central authority. Section 5 provides for the storage of information received from other member states relating to convictions in member states of Irish nationals.
Section 6 provides for the circumstances in which the Irish central authority may - and in some cases must - request information on convictions from other central authorities. This section also provides for the format in which these requests should be made. Section 7 provides for responses to requests from other central authorities and the related categories of information, which can be transmitted in relation to a person who is a national of the State. It also provides for any limitations on the retransmission of information. Section 8 provides for responses to requests from other central authorities and the related categories of information which can be transmitted to other central authorities in relation to a person who is not a national of the State.
Section 9 provides for deadlines to respond to requests for information. Section 10 provides for the electronic transfer of information, which will be referenced in accordance with the common codes agreed by member states and contained in the implementing Council Decision 2009/316/JHA. This decision and these codes are included in schedule 4 of the Bill. Section 11 provides for safeguards on how and when personal data which is received and transmitted can be used. This section provides that such transmissions are in accordance with the General Data Protection Regulation and the Data Protection Act of 2018.
Section 12 provides that when the Irish central authority receives a request for information on an Irish national from a country other than an EU member state, the Irish central authority can only provide information subject to the limitations outlined in section 7 which relate to any limits placed on this information by other member states. Section 13 provides that this Bill does not affect any obligation or power to provide or request information under any other law. Section 14 is a standard provision providing moneys for the administration of this system. Section 15 is a standard provision which provides for the short title of the Act and its commencement.
Schedule 1 includes the full text of the relevant framework decision. Schedule 2 lists the information which can be provided on request. Schedule 3 lists the other purposes, in addition to that of criminal proceedings, for which information can be exchanged. Schedule 4 includes the full text of the implementing Council decision.
The implementation of ECRIS can clearly be seen as a positive step from the previous administrative approach to the sharing of criminal conviction information between member states, and I am pleased that this Bill will place our use of ECRIS on a statutory footing. It must be noted that a degree of urgency is now attached to the full enactment of this legislation, given that in July 2019 the Commission issued Ireland with a reasoned opinion on account of the delay in our notifying measures for the transposition into our national law of Framework Decision 2009/315/JHA. This transposition was delayed due to domestic legislation which was a greater priority at the time, and regard needed to be taken of the EU Commission's proposals to change ECRIS and how these would progress.
Ireland is now required to inform the Commission of the measures we have taken to facilitate transposition and I am confident that I will have the support of this House in this regard, in order that this Bill, which gives effect to full transposition, can now proceed through it as soon as possible. The transposition of these ECRIS decisions is a matter of high priority not only so the transposition may be faithfully completed as soon as possible, but also because this system and its future development is part of a package of measures to enhance law enforcement, judicial co-operation and information exchange in the European Union and counter the increasing threat of terrorist and organised criminal activity across Europe.
The European Parliament and Council's political agreement on the Commission's proposal to create a central ECRIS-TCN system to improve the exchange of criminal record information on convicted non-EU citizens, third country nationals, and stateless persons through the existing ECRIS has further underscored the importance of placing the use of this system on a statutory footing as soon as possible by giving effect to the relevant European instruments. Accordingly, I am pleased to present and commend this Bill to the House and I very much hope that it can quickly progress to enactment. Go raibh maith agaibh.