Amendments Nos. 1 to 3, inclusive, are related and may be discussed together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.
Criminal Justice (Rehabilitative Periods) Bill 2018: Committee Stage
I move amendment No. 1:
In page 5, lines 14 and 15, to delete “sections 1, 3, 4, 5 and 6 and the Criminal Justice (Spent Convictions and Certain Disclosures) Act 2016” and substitute “section 2, Part 2 and the Act of 2016”.
I thank the Minister for being here. We have many amendments to get through in two hours, so I will not speak at length as I move my amendments. I thank the Minister for his support for the Bill on Second Stage and the engagement he has allowed between my office and his officials.
I also thank the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality for its July hearings on unspent convictions reform, as well as its October report and recommendations. I am proposing to enact many of those recommendations into the legislation today. I also thank the Office of Parliamentary Legal Advisers, OPLA, the Irish Penal Reform Trust, IPRT, and Seb McAteer in my office for their help in preparing for today. I also thank the officials from the Minister's Department whom I met recently. Amendments Nos. 1 to 3, inclusive, are technical amendments dealing with minor changes to citations and construction provisions. I am tabling them on the advice of the Office of Parliamentary Legal Advisers.
Before I speak on the amendments, I will outline the Government's position on the Bill. The Government does not oppose this Bill in principle. I agree with the core objective of assisting people with minor convictions who have moved on from offending and now wish to make a positive contribution to society without being constrained by their past. We have to recognise, however, that the changes proposed are significant, including the changes Senator Ruane proposes to make on this Stage. While I do not intend to oppose these changes at this time, I inform the House that I may well bring forward amendments at a future date to address any issues that may arise as a result of the detailed examination of the Bill and today's amendments being undertaken by my Department.
As everybody will appreciate, this Bill requires careful and detailed consideration to take into account the perspectives of rehabilitation and community safety. In particular, my Department, and others, will need to identify the possible implications of the recommendations of the joint committee's report on spent convictions. These are, in part, reflected in some of the amendments being moved by Senator Ruane. My officials met with the Senator earlier this month. I hope she will agree that the engagement was positive and there was a discussion of the objectives and implications of the obligations of the Bill, as well as the amendments before us. It was useful and constructive dialogue.
I agree with Senator Ruane that we need to do a little more work. We need more time to consider fully the implications of these proposed changes and the recommendations arising from the committee's report so as to achieve an appropriate balance. We have to get the balance right between individual rehabilitation and community safety. It will be important to analyse not only the type of offences that will become eligible under the provisions of this Bill, but also the knock-on effects of such changes for those involved and wider society. It is also necessary to identify any implications that may arise for vetting. Equally, it is vital that the needs of the victims of crime receive special attention, especially in the context of more serious offences that may qualify to become spent under the Bill. Account must also be taken of offences committed by those under the age of 18 years and by young adults aged up to 25 years in respect of the specific provisions contained in this Bill. Careful consideration will also be required of the operational implications of this approach regarding the possession of drugs for personal use and how that might be aligned with the overall regime for spent convictions.
I acknowledge what Senator Ruane said at the start of this debate and I thank her for agreeing to share her research and analysis with my Department. It will be of great benefit to me and my officials in our work. I assure the House that I look forward to continuing to work with Senator Ruane to progress this legislation in a meaningful way.
As I have stated directly to the Senator, my intention is to ensure that what we have by way of legislation is balanced, fair and effective in its approach from the perspectives of protecting the public and rehabilitating the offender.
I will address the amendments when the House reaches them.
I welcome the Minister to the House's debate on the Bill. I commend Senators Ruane, Kelleher and Black and their colleagues on not only introducing it, but on tabling these amendments. I welcome the Minister's announcement that the Government will not oppose the amendments and that he is engaging with Senator Ruane. It shows the Seanad at its best-----
-----in working collaboratively on achieving important and necessary reforms that are not opposed by anyone.
I have spoken many times in support of the principle that is encapsulated in the Bill, namely, ensuring that a broader range of convictions may be regarded as spent convictions and lifting some of the restrictions in what is a highly-restrictive regime for spent convictions. Ireland came rather late to legislating for spent convictions. That was a matter of regret for many of us. I commend the work that has been done in introducing the Bill and ensuring it will progress with the Government's support. That last point is positive.
The Bill is part of a broader penal reform programme as highlighted in the work of the Irish Penal Reform Trust and others. All of us who are supportive of the Bill should be concerned about the rising levels of imprisonment that have been highlighted recently. A great deal of work has been done in the Department of Justice and Equality to try to move towards a situation where prison is a sanction of last resort. The Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice and Equality has called for the same. The Bill is an important part of that positive and progressive penal reform strategy, but we must ensure that we examine on an evidential basis why our imprisonment rates are increasing at a time when we are trying to move forward with a more progressive penal system generally.
I welcome the Bill and the amendments.
I do not want to prolong the work of the House, given that there is a significant amount of amendments to get through, but I wish to indicate Sinn Féin's support for this legislation and the amendments. Senator Bacik is right. On the bulk of penal reform issues, the Seanad, the Government and stakeholders have worked collaboratively and positively. That can only be a good and empowering thing as we move forward.
Like the Minister, and given the research and the level of interest in this important legislation, we on this side of the House will consider how to strengthen the Bill as it proceeds to the next Stage. For tonight, we wish the legislation and the proposing Senators well. Let us get to work.
I will be brief. I welcome the Minister to the Chamber. On behalf of the Fianna Fáil Party, Senator Wilson and I are delighted to support this legislation. I compliment Senators Ruane, Kelleher and Black on their work. It is worthwhile legislation. We in Fianna Fáil introduced something similar in 2007 and 2011. We are delighted to support the Senators' Bill and to hear the Minister's statement that he will work with Senator Ruane to progress it as a matter of urgency.
I welcome Members' comments and look forward to their continuing engagement. Since my amendments represent a large shift, we will work with the Minister and his Department between now and Report Stage if they need to be tweaked in any way.
Does the Minister wish to comment on amendments Nos. 1 to 3, inclusive? Senator Ruane does not wish to contribute further.
Amendment No. 1 is a technical amendment. I am not sure of the extent to which the Senator wishes to elaborate on it. I am prepared to accept these amendments insofar as they apply to the Bill as initiated.
I move amendment No. 2:
In page 5, line 17, to delete “section 7” and substitute “Part 3”.
I move amendment No. 3:
In page 5, line 19, after “2018” to insert “and shall be construed together as one”.
Amendments Nos. 4, 25 and 29 are related. Amendments Nos. 4 and 29 are consequential on amendment No. 25. Amendments Nos. 4, 25 and 29 may be discussed together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.
I move amendment No. 4:
In page 5, between lines 19 and 20, to insert the following:
“(4) This subsection, Part 4 and the Employment Equality Acts 1998 to 2015 may be cited together as the Employment Equality Acts 1998 to 2019 and shall be construed together as one.
These amendments relate to a new Part 4 that I am proposing to insert to amend the Employment Equality Act 1998 by providing for a new section 14B. This section would create a new category of discriminatory treatment whereby an employer would not be able to treat a current or prospective employee differently on the basis of a conviction if that conviction was regarded as spent under our spent conviction laws. I am tabling these amendments on foot of recommendation No. 7 of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice and Equality's report on spent convictions, which called on a cross-party basis for this exact change to the Employment Equality Acts.
There is a major gap in our spent conviction laws whereby a spent conviction cannot be used to disadvantage someone in our courts but the same protection is not afforded to those seeking or maintaining employment, where this issue is far more likely to arise. If someone's conviction is spent, he or she currently has the right not to disclose that conviction in a job interview. However, in the era of the Internet and where background checks are becoming routine in recruitment, current and prospective employees need to be protected from being disadvantaged where the employer finds out about the conviction through other means. When we legislate for a conviction to become spent, we are telling that individual that it is no longer on his or her record and he or she is entitled to no longer disclose it. Without this amendment to employment law, however, we are implicitly allowing employers to discriminate on the basis of a conviction that the State has deemed no longer relevant. The amendments would prohibit any requirement to disclose a conviction or circumstances ancillary to it if it is spent.
I wish to reserve the right to table a similar amendment on Report Stage relating to the Ban the Box campaign and to ensure that a prospective employee is only asked about his or her conviction history at a later stage in the application process when he or she has the opportunity to explain it and put it into context.
I hope that the Minister will accept these amendments.
I am not opposing the amendments on this Stage, but I wish to give notice that I may table amendments of my own on Report Stage. In the meantime, I assure the Senator of meaningful engagement with my Department with a view towards reaching agreement for Report Stage.
Amendments Nos. 5 and 26 are related. Amendment No. 5 is consequential on amendment No. 26. Amendments Nos. 5 and 26 may be discussed together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.
I move amendment No. 5:
In page 5, between lines 19 and 20, to insert the following:
(4) This subsection, Part 5 and the Children Acts 2001 to 2015 may be cited together as the Children Acts 2001 to 2019 and shall be construed together as one.”.
These amendments propose a change to section 258 of the Children Act 2001, which relates to criminal record disclosures for those under the age of 18 years. I am tabling them on foot of advice from the Office of Parliamentary Legal Advisers, OPLA, which has informed me that such a change is required as a consequence of the new provisions that I am proposing for young adults and the generally shorter rehabilitative periods they would have under the Bill. The Children Act sets out the rehabilitative period for under 18s at a blanket three years. Since we are creating in the Bill a new and more generous arrangement for those aged 18 to 24 years, however, the lowest rehabilitative period for that new cohort will actually be shorter at two years. Therefore, there would be a major inconsistency within the Children Act, given that a young adult aged between 17 and 24 years would be treated more generously than those under the age of 18 years despite the special category of rights enjoyed by children under the Constitution.
I am, therefore, advised by the OPLA that a consequential change to reduce the rehabilitative period for those under 18 to one year is needed. This change is also supported by recommendation 9 of the Oireachtas joint committee report from October, which called for the removal of the rehabilitative period for people under 18 altogether. I am trying, therefore, to strike a balance between the two provisions and have gone for a one-year rehabilitative period as a result. I hope the Minister can accept these amendments.
Amendment No. 5 is a technical amendment which refers to and cites new substantive provisions in respect of amending the Children Act 2001.
Amendment No. 26 provides for a substantive change to the Children Act 2001 by reducing the rehabilitative period for those under 18 from three years to one year. I am sure Senators would agree that this would need to be harmonised with potential amendments to the Children Act, first, in respect of expungement of offences under the Children Act but also with regard to possible amendments to the regime governing records of admission to the Garda diversion programme in Part 4 of that Act. I, therefore, wish to flag to the committee that I may need to move my own amendments to this part of the Bill in due course but I say so in the context of my earlier comments of constructive dialogue with Senator Ruane.
Acceptance of amendment No. 6 involves the deletion of section 2 of the Bill. Amendments Nos. 6, 19 and 20 are related. Amendment No. 20 is consequential on amendment No. 19. Amendments Nos. 6, 19 and 20 may be discussed together, by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.
I move amendment No. 6:
In page 5, between lines 23 and 24, to insert the following:
2. In this Act, "Act of 2016" means the Criminal Justice (Spent Convictions and Certain Disclosures) Act 2016.".
Amendments Nos. 6, 19 and 20 are technical amendments, which alter the definition provision contained in section 2 and move the citation for the National Vetting Bureau (Children and Vulnerable Persons) Act 2012 to Part 3 later in the Bill, which contains the provisions relating to the 2012 Act. They are tabled on the advice of the OPLA and are technical amendments.
Is the Minister accepting them?
The OPLA has advised me that section 3, which relates to a review of the Act, is more appropriately located in Part 2 of the Bill, which contains the provisions relating to the 2016 principal Act. It is a technical amendment. The section will be reinstated later by amendment No. 18.
Amendments Nos. 7 to 14, inclusive, 27 and 28 are related and may be discussed together, by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.
I move amendment No. 7:
In page 6, line 28, to delete "24 years" and substitute "25 years".
Amendments Nos. 8, 10, 12 and 14 are technical amendments removing the words "and over" from section 5 on foot of advice of the OPLA and to insert a comma where it was omitted from the Bill as initiated.
Amendments Nos. 7, 9, 11 and 13 are substantive and relate to the age at which the Bill defines a young adult. As the Minister will be aware, a major part of this Bill is that it sets out different spent conviction arrangements for young adults due to their higher rehabilitative needs by allowing for shorter periods before their convictions can become spent. The Bill currently defines the age as 23 and younger, and in these amendments I am proposing to increase it to 24 years and younger. This is on foot of recommendation No. 9 of the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality report, which specifically calls for a distinct approach and even proposed extending the provisions of the Children Act 2011 for those under 18 to the same age range. While not identical, what I propose largely reflects the recommendation and will also align the Bill with the Youth Work Act 2001, which defines a young adult as a person under the age of 25.
Amendments Nos. 27 and 28 are consequential amendments to the Schedule to the Bill to reflect the proposed redefinition of a young adult from the age of "23 and younger" to "24 and younger" in section 5.
I accept amendments Nos. 8,10,12 and 14 on the basis that they are technical amendments that apply to section 5 regarding the removal of the references to "and over" which allows the relevant subsections to read more clearly and appropriately.
I am not opposing amendments Nos. 7,9,11 and 13. These relate to increasing the age at which the provisions of this Bill specific to the young adult cohort may apply from the age of 23 to the age of 25. Amendments Nos. 27 and 28 amend the Schedule to the Bill in terms of reflecting the proposed changes in section 5 to the increased qualifying age of the young adult and I do not oppose these amendments. I note that this policy angle is consistent with recommendation No. 9 of the joint committee report on spent convictions. I am not objecting in principle to this but as with some of the other amendments, I will need to give careful consideration to the detail of how these provisions will operate. The implications of the overall regime being proposed through the Bill will also need to include detailed consideration of the views of An Garda Síochána, as well as the Probation Service, the Irish Prison Service and the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, DPP, as well as legal assessments from the Office of the Attorney General. I am merely flagging the possibility that I will bring my own amendments to this section of the Bill at a later stage.
I appreciate the Minister's comments. Of course, that is fine.
I move amendment No. 8:
In page 6, line 29, to delete "committed and over" and substitute "committed,".
I move amendment No. 9:
In page 6, line 34, to delete "24 years" and substitute "25 years".
I move amendment No. 10:
In page 6, line 34, to delete "committed" and substitute "committed,".
I move amendment No. 11:
In page 7, line 1, to delete "24 years" and substitute "25 years".
I move amendment No. 12:
In page 7, line 2, to delete "committed and over" and substitute "committed,".
I move amendment No. 13:
In page 7, line 7, to delete “24 years” and substitute “25 years”.
I move amendment No. 14:
In page 7, lines 7 and 8, to delete "committed and over" and substitute "committed,".
Amendments Nos. 15 and 16 are related. Amendment No. 16 is consequential on amendment No. 15. Amendments Nos. 15 and 16 may be discussed together, by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.
I move amendment No. 15:
In page 7, between lines 11 and 12, to insert the following:
"(5) Notwithstanding subsections (1) to (4), the relevant period in respect of a relevant sentence imposed on a person for an offence under section 3 of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1977 shall be the lesser of the following:
(a) the period determined in accordance with subsections (1) to (4);
(b) the period of 3 years.".
Amendment No. 15 allows for a distinct treatment for simple drugs possession offences under section 3 of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1977. Amendment No. 16 is a technical amendment.
As the Minister will be aware, the working group to consider alternative approaches to the possession of drugs for personal use convened between the Department and the Department of Health delivered a report in July which called for a shift in our drug policies from a harsh criminal justice focus to one focused on public health. As the Minister will be aware, I have a significant interest in this area and have tabled my own legislation on an public health approach to drugs policy.
A key part of this shift announced by this report will be how we treat old convictions for simple drugs possession and in its ancillary recommendations, the working group called for allowing all personal use convictions to become spent and for the rehabilitative period to be reduced to three years. This recommendation was then endorsed by the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality in recommendation No. 14. I am proposing to enact it by providing that the waiting period will still be proportional if shorter than three years, with three years set as the maximum wait. This is a key part of the proposed shift away from treating drug issues with the criminal justice system. I believe it aligns closely with the work of the working group this year and allows for some of the recommendations from that working group to be given life.
Obviously, this is something that is extremely close to my heart in relation to drugs possession, and especially in respect of Garda vetting and the significant amount of people who we keep out of certain sectors because of simple possession in their past. I hope the Minister can accept the amendment.
I will not oppose amendments Nos. 15 and 16. Amendment No. 15 will amend section 5 by creating a new subsection to reflect recommendation 14 of the joint committee report and recommendation 10.2.2 of the working group report to consider alternative approaches to the possession of drugs for personal use, regarding the setting up of an upper rehabilitative period limit of three years for personal possession offences under the 1977 Act. The Minister for Health and I need to give further consideration to examining the legal implications and the perhaps unforeseen consequences of reducing the limits applying to the offence. I ask for the forbearance of Senators on the matter and suggest that the views of An Garda Síochána will be important in respect of the operational implications for how an approach to drug possession might be aligned with the overall regime for spent convictions.
While I will accept the amendments, I will do so against the background of my position being that further consideration of a detailed nature of the matter will need to be part of ongoing discussions between officials from my Department and the Senator. In that regard, it will be no surprise to the Leas-Chathaoirleach if I reserve the right to table amendments in the area, if necessary, on a later Stage.
Amendment No. 16 is a consequential amendment in respect of the numbering of the subsections in section 5, and I do not have a difficulty with it.
I move amendment No. 16:
In page 7, line 12, to delete “(5) The relevant” and substitute “(6) The relevant”.
I move amendment No. 17:
In page 7, to delete lines 36 to 41, and in page 6, to delete lines 1 to 5 and substitute the following:
(b) by deleting subsections (3) and (5).”.
The amendment is one of the most important changes I propose to the Bill. It will remove the limit on the number of convictions that can become spent. The single-conviction rule of the current law received significant criticism at the justice committee as a major barrier to access to spent convictions and as an interference with the right to privacy under Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights. It was acknowledged it was a disproportionate limit on the rehabilitative potential law and that it needed reform. My Bill, as initiated, proposed increasing the limit to two convictions for adults and three convictions for young adults. In recommendation 4 of its report on spent convictions, however, the justice committee called for the removal of the limit altogether, citing the support of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission for the change.
I, therefore, propose the amendment to enact the change. If we do not remove the limit, we will not be able to cater for those with clusters of offences. Even if they took place decades earlier, they would never have an opportunity to become spent, irrespective of how minor they were. If a person is on track to have his or her convictions spent, he or she must not offend for a significant period. All indicators show that the length of the period without reoffending is the best indicator of someone's propensity to commit crime. This should be the standard by which we allow someone to avail of a spent conviction, rather than an arbitrary restriction on the number that can become spent.
As in the case of previous amendments in the name of the Senator, I will not oppose the amendment, which will provide for the removal of the limit of the number of convictions eligible to become spent. It is a reflection of recommendation 4 of the joint committee's report on spent convictions. While I will not oppose it, I invite agreement from Senators that it should be subject to a more detailed, evidence-based consideration involving consultations with the wider criminal justice sector and other stakeholders. It is important there is clear communication of the effects of the proposal, and I again flag to the House that I may table my own amendments to the section at a later date. Nevertheless, I thank the Senator for advancing debate on an important matter of concern.
I move amendment No. 18:
In page 8, between lines 5 and 6, to insert the following:
“Report on operation of Act
7. The Act of 2016 is amended in Part 2 by inserting the following after section 13:
“13A. The Minister shall —
(a) not later than 2 years after this section comes into operation, commence a review of the operation of this Act, and
(b) not later than 12 months after the commencement of the review, make a report to each House of the Oireachtas of the findings made on the review and of the conclusions drawn from the findings.”.”.
The amendment will reinstate the old section, section 3, in Part 2, on the advice of the OPLA. It will make no substantive change but merely move its position in the Bill.
It is a technical amendment and I have no difficulty with it.
I move amendment No. 19:
In page 8, between lines 7 and 8, to insert the following:
“Definition ( Part 3 )
7. In this Part “Act of 2012” means the National Vetting Bureau (Children and Vulnerable Persons) Act 2012.”.
I move amendment No. 20:
In page 8, line 10, to delete “National Vetting Bureau (Children and Vulnerable Persons) Act 2012” and substitute “Act of 2012”.
Amendments Nos. 21 to 23, inclusive, are related and may be discussed together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.
I move amendment No. 21:
In page 8, to delete lines 12 and 13 and substitute the following:
“(a) in subsection (1) —
(i) by substituting “a relevant court” for “the District Court”,
(ii) by inserting the following paragraph after paragraph (a):
“(aa) the penalty imposed by the court in respect of the conviction concerned is a relevant sentence;
(iii) by substituting the following paragraph for paragraph (c):
(c) the relevant period that applies shall have ended;”,".
The amendments relate to Part 3 and will amend the National Vetting Bureau (Children and Vulnerable Persons) Act 2012. Amendment No. 22 will make the same change as amendment No. 17, namely, removing the limit on the number of convictions from the Garda vetting scheme.
Amendments Nos. 21 and 23 will amend the 2012 Act to ensure that convictions received in the Circuit Court can become spent for the purposes of Garda vetting. The approach taken to differentiate the Garda vetting scheme from the general scheme of the 2016 Act was to make them largely similar and add a significant number of offences that would be excluded from being spent, which are listed in Schedule 3 to the 2012 Act. The change will be in light of the higher standards required for the purposes of Garda vetting for work such as care of children, regulated professions and so on.
A significant change was made, however, between the general spent convictions regime and that which applies to Garda vetting. Under the general scheme, Circuit Court convictions can become spent but under the vetting scheme, they cannot, despite 17 provisions excluding further offences not in the general scheme. In the more sensitive areas of vetting, we should exclude offences based on the nature of the offence and not on the court in which the conviction was received. The more targeted approach will prevent an arbitrary exclusion of Circuit Court convictions where such a distinction was not made in the general scheme and where, if there are concerns about specific offences being included, we can legislate for them specifically. I hope the Minister will accept the amendments.
I am pleased to inform the Senator it is not my intention to oppose amendments Nos. 21 to 23, inclusive, which will extend section 14(a) of the National Vetting Bureau (Children and Vulnerable Persons) Act 2012 to include Circuit Court convictions and therefore attempt to harmonise the equivalent related provisions of the Criminal Justice (Spent Convictions and Certain Disclosures) Act 2016 with those of the 2012 Act. Simply put, the amendments appear to be designed to provide that those Circuit Court convictions that may become spent under the 2016 Act will be treated as such under the 2012 Act. Senators will appreciate I will need to consult further across the criminal justice sector, not least with the National Vetting Bureau, because implications will arise from the amendments.
As I stated in the case of other amendments, while I will not oppose the amendments before us at this stage, I ask Senators to bear with me on the basis that I may consider tabling appropriate and necessary amendments to the section at a later stage. In the meantime, I commit to all five Senators that there will be a significant degree of consultation with a view to reaching an agreement before Report Stage.
I move amendment No. 22:
In page 8, to delete lines 14 to 25 and substitute the following:
“(b) by deleting subsections (2) and (4),”.
I move amendment No. 23:
In page 8, to delete lines 26 to 33 and substitute the following:
“(c) in subsection (5) —
(i) in the definition of “effective date of conviction”, by substituting “a relevant court” for “the District Court”, and
(ii) in the definition of “excluded offence” by substituting “2016;” for “2016.”, and by inserting the following definitions after the definition of “excluded offence”:
“ ‘relevant court’ means the District Court or the Circuit Court;
‘relevant period’ in relation to a relevant sentence of a court imposed on a person, means the period that applies under section 4A of the Criminal Justice (Spent Convictions and Certain Disclosures) Act 2016 in respect of the sentence and includes any extension of that period under section 4B of that Act;
‘relevant sentence’ has the meaning given to it in Part 2 of the Criminal Justice (Spent Convictions and Certain Disclosures) Act 2016.”,
(d) by deleting subsection (6).”.”.
I move amendment No. 24:
In page 8, after line 33, to insert the following:
“Amendment of Schedule 3 to Act of 2012
8. Schedule 3 to the Act of 2012 is amended in paragraph 16 by substituting “an offence under” for “a first offence under”.”.
I have tabled the amendment in the same vein as amendment No. 15 and in light of the recently heralded shift in the Department towards a health-led approach to drug policy rather than one rooted in the criminal justice system. The list of excluded offences for the purposes of Garda vetting provides that a first conviction for simple possession of drugs under the Misuse of Drugs Act can become spent but that second and subsequent offences cannot. If drug possession is a health issue in the first instance, it must be a health issue thereafter.
I propose, therefore, that second and subsequent offences for simple possession become spent in Garda vetting. It is a logical next step following amendment No. 15 and the setting of a maximum waiting period for drugs offences. I hope the Minister can accept the amendment considering his Department's recent commitment to adopting a health-led approach following the report in July from the working group on the possession of drugs.
Again, as on previous amendments, I do not intend to divide the House. While I am not opposing the amendment, I ask Senators to agree and accept that we still need to engage in a level of consultation across a range of stakeholders within the criminal justice sector. We need to analyse what will be required in assessing the merits of the amendment. While I commit to constructive engagement with the Senators proposing the amendment, I reserve the right to introduce my own amendments at a later point should it be necessary to do so.
I move amendment No. 25:
In page 8, after line 33, to insert the following:
Amendment to Employment Equality Act 1998
Discriminatory treatment of persons with spent convictions or findings of guilt
8. The Employment Equality Act 1998 is amended by inserting the following section after section 14A:
“14B. (1) For the purposes of this Act, where an employer treats a person less favourably by reason of a spent conviction, the less favourable treatment constitutes discrimination by the employer in relation to the person’s access to, or conditions of, employment.
(2) For the purposes of subsection (1), a person is treated less favourably by reason of a spent conviction where each of the following applies:
(a) the person is an employee or prospective employee of the employer concerned;
(b) the person is a person to whom a spent conviction relates;
(c) the employer does either of the following:
(i) in the case of a prospective employee, requires the prospective employee to disclose a spent conviction or any circumstances ancillary to the conviction in the course of an application or interview for the employment concerned;
(ii) in the case of either an employee or a prospective employee, treats the person concerned less favourably for failure to disclose a spent conviction or any circumstances ancillary to the conviction in the course of an application or interview for the employment concerned.
(3) In relation to discrimination under subsection (1), nothing in this section shall render unlawful any act done in compliance with Part 3 of the National Vetting Bureau (Children and Vulnerable Persons) Act 2012.
(4) In this section ‘spent conviction’ means—
(a) a conviction which is spent by virtue of section 5 of the Criminal Justice (Spent Convictions and Certain Disclosures) Act 2016,
(b) a finding of guilt to which section 258 of the Children Act 2001 applies, or
(c) a conviction made against a person under the law of another state or territory, which would, if the conviction concerned occurred in the State, be a conviction to which paragraph (a) or (b) applies.”.”.
I move amendment No. 26:
In page 8, after line 33, to insert the following:
Amendment to Children Act 2001
Amendment of section 258 (non-disclosure of certain findings of guilt) of Children Act 2001
8. Section 258 of the Children Act 2001 is amended in subsection (1)—
(a) in paragraph (c) by substituting “one year” for “three years”, and
(b) by substituting “one-year period” for “three-year period” in both places occurring.”.
I move amendment No. 27:
In page 9, to delete lines 6 to 12 and substitute the following:
Relevant sentence imposed
Duration of relevant period for persons aged 25 years and over
Duration of relevant period for persons who have reached the age of 18 years but have not yet reached the age of 25 years
I move amendment No. 28:
In page 10, to delete lines 3 to 9 and substitute the following:
Duration of relevant period for persons aged 25 years and above
Duration of relevant period for persons who have reached the age of 18 years but have not yet reached the age of 25 years
I move amendment No. 29:
In page 5, line 8, after “spent,” to insert “to make consequential amendments to other Acts, to
amend the Employment Equality Act 1998”.
Pursuant to Standing Order 154, it is reported, especially to the Seanad, that the committee has amended the Title to the Bill.
I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach and Senators for their work in ensuring this debate would take place this evening. I am mindful of the fact that they have a very busy schedule. I acknowledge the significant amount of work Senator Ruane has done to progress this important legislation. I formally thank the Senator for her work, but I also thank the Independent Senators, Senators Black, Kelleher, Dolan, Higgins and Grace O'Sullivan, for supporting its presentation to the House. It is an important issue, not only for those with convictions but also for society as a whole.
I agree with the general objective of the Bill, as do my Government colleagues, as we strive to assist those with minor convictions who have moved away from offending and want to get on with their lives. The amendments proposed by Senator Ruane go further than what was envisaged by her or her colleagues, but they take into account the recommendations of the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality in October this year. I acknowledge the importance of that report in the context of this debate. I also acknowledge the meetings that took place between my officials and Senator Ruane earlier this month. I acknowledge what Senator Ruane said about the constructive nature of that engagement. While I am generally supportive of the direction of the amendments, as are my Government colleagues, it has not been entirely possible within the time available to fully consider the implications of the committee's recommendations at an appropriate level of detail, in conjunction with the proposed amendments the Seanad has passed this afternoon. However, I am happy to accept them in the knowledge that and against the background of further consultation being required to ensure unintended consequences will be avoided, for example, serious offences being captured unintentionally by the Bill, as constituted.
I acknowledge that there is great merit in the legislation and I am happy to work with Senator Ruane to progress the Bill further in order that it will be balanced and fair in its approach, both from the perspective of rehabilitation of the offender and given the crucial need to at all times protect the public. I am committed to working further with Senator Ruane as this research and consultation progresses. I acknowledge the welcome the Senator has given to this. We will continue to engage, with a view to identifying amendments which might be needed on Report Stage because my objective is in line with those of the Independent Senators. Their presence in numbers underlines the support for Senator Ruane and the importance they place on this reforming legislation. At the end of Committee Stage our objective is the same, that is, to ensure the fairest possible outcome can be achieved for all citizens. I thank Senator Ruane and the other Senators involved.
I concur with the Minister and commend Senator Ruane on bringing forward this legislation that will impact on people's lives. We are in this House to improve them. I am convinced that the Bill, when enacted, will make a huge difference to the lives of citizens. I followed the debate on Committee Stage. To be fair to the Minister, he is working with Senator Ruane because he understands her objective, which is a common objective for all of us. The further dialogue that will take place with officials before Report Stage to fine-tune and improve the Bill will be important. Senator Ruane has done a fantastic job and I look forward to the Bill being passed and signed into law when it will make a difference to people's lives.
I thank everyone. It has taken me a long time to advance the Bill to this point. Long before I became a Member of the House, I was part of very early discussions in the community and drugs sectors about the fact that we did not even have a spent convictions regime in place in Ireland. It is almost as if I am getting close to giving birth. To reach the end of the process would be amazing as it has taken up a decade of my life.
The Senator is in safe hands.
As a Senator, I have never wanted to work on legislation in isolation to either oppose a measure or differ from other Members. My goal has always been to work cohesively with everybody around me. That probably comes from a lifetime of work with people in the community sector and it is the only way to get things done. The Minister's departmental officials have been open to participating in that engagement process. It does not feel tokenistic in any way when we consult or meet his departmental officials. The process has been lengthy and constructive and helped to work out the issues involved, something I welcome. I thank Seb McAteer in my office for the huge amount of work he puts in to make me sound better than I am, something which is to be welcomed.
Can I borrow him?
I thank all those in the community sector and the NGOs who fought to get the Bill to this point.
I hope that between now and Report Stage we can see a Bill leave this House which everyone will support and which can be championed by the two larger parties in the Dáil. Obviously I do not want a Bill to leave this House which will not be picked up by the Minister's Department, considering the huge amount of work the Department has done with me in the Chamber. I hope the Bill will have champions when we get to Report Stage and get it into the Dáil. I thank the Minister and the members of the Civil Engagement group for their support.
When is it proposed to sit again?
Maidin amárach ar 10.30.