Acting Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald has announced the commencement of legislation allowing some minor offences to become spent after seven years.
The Department of Justice has said around 85 per cent of convictions will become spent after seven years as a result of the Criminal Justice (Spent Convictions and Certain Disclosures) Act 2016.
The Act does not apply to any conviction for a sexual offence or an offence which was tried in the Central Criminal Court.
Ms Fitzgerald said: “The Spent Convictions and Certain Disclosures Act 2016 is an important milestone in the rehabilitation of offenders in Ireland.
“This legislation brings Ireland into line with most other EU Member States in providing that people convicted of relatively minor offences can eventually leave their past behind them and get on with their lives.
“The Bill should be of particular benefit to ex-offenders, who often find their path to employment blocked, once they admit to a previous offence. Society’s interests and those of the offender who mends his or her ways can coincide.
“It is in everyone’s interest that offenders who have paid their debt to society and want to leave crime behind are encouraged to do so. Insofar as this legislation can help, then it is to be welcomed by all.”
The Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) has criticised aspects of the legislation.
A spokesperson told Irish Legal News: “Spent Convictions legislation plays a critical role in the rehabilitation of offenders, and is long overdue in Ireland. Until today, Ireland was the only European Union member-state to not have any legislative scheme whereby certain adult convictions could become spent after a rehabilitative period.
“The equivalent legislation in the UK, the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act, was introduced in 1974 and extended to sentences of up to 4 years’ imprisonment in 2014. By comparison, the Irish legislation is very limited in its reach. While it takes a generous approach to minor public order and motoring convictions more than 7 years old, the maximum sentence to which the scheme will apply is 12 months’ imprisonment.
“IPRT is particularly disappointed that the legislation will not be of any benefit to people with more than one ‘other’ conviction, no matter how minor or how long ago the offences were committed.
“In effect, the legislation fails to acknowledge the underlying causes of offending – including youth, immaturity, mental health issues, addictions, homelessness – and will not support those who have long ago moved on from a period of offending behaviour.
“The campaign continues for IPRT and for the many people who will not be able to benefit from the legislation – but certainly it’s a good day for thousands of people with older convictions for minor motoring and public order offences who will no longer have to disclose them.”