If a person under the age of 18 has been found guilty of an offence (other than an offence required to be tried by the Central Criminal Court, for example murder or rape) and 3 years or more has lapsed since the finding of guilt and that person has not been “dealt with” for an offence in that 3 year period, then, after the end of the 3 year period in question the person to whom the section applies shall be treated for all purposes in law…….. “as a person who has not committed or been charged with or prosecuted for or found guilty of or dealt with for the offence or offences which were subject of the finding of guilt…..” This is contained in a little known section of the Children’s Act of 2001, Section 258, which has been on our statue books for over 15 years It came into force on the1st May 2002 and which in effect has provided for spent convictions as far as people who were under the age of 18 when they committed them. The Law has finally brought up to date as far as adults are concerned under the Criminal Justice (Spent Convictions and Certain Disclosures) Act of 2016 which came into force on the 29th April 2016.
Section 258 of the Children’s Act 2001 goes on to state that the Section will not apply to a person, under the age of 18 years who is found guilty of an offence unless he or she has served any period of detention that may have been imposed or otherwise complied with any Court Order imposed on him or her in respect of the guilty finding.
The fact however that the guilty person may not have paid the relevant fine, or other sum (say compensation) or may be in breach of a condition of a bail bond to keep the peace and be of good behaviour or any other condition imposed by a Court will not prevent the application of this Section to the person in question.
The Section goes on to say that no evidence is admissible in any Court proceedings that such a person has committed ……. any offence and any person in such proceedings may not be asked and if asked is not required to answer any question relating to his or her past which cannot be answered without acknowledging or referring to the past conviction.
Likewise where a question seeking information in respect of such a person’s previous guilt is put to him or her otherwise then in Court proceedings the person may answer the question without reference to the previous conviction and will not be subject to any liability or prejudice by reason of failing to acknowledge or disclose any such finding. The failure of any person to acknowledge or disclose such a finding to which this section applies shall not entitle any employer to dismiss a person from employment or prejudice him or her in any way in any occupation or employment.
The Minister for Justice however may make an Order excluding or modifying this Section but this can only be made by the Minister after the proposal in question is put before the Dáil and Seanad and the Order shall not be made until a resolution approving the Order has been passed in each House of the Oireachtas.
In effect therefore it means that any criminal offence that was committed by a person before the person reached the age of 18 years and is an offence that does not have to be tried in the Central Criminal Court (for example rape or murder), and for the 3 year period since the finding of guilt that person has not been dealt with for another offence, then it is as if that person has no criminal record.
It is important to note that even though the person may have been convicted of the offence when he / she was over 18 the relevant date is the date that the offence was committed, not the date of conviction.
Unlike the spent convictions for adults there does not appear to be any limitations in the amount of convictions that come in under this sub-section provided it meets with the criteria as set out above.
Section 258 of the Children’s Act 2001 requires careful reading but also requires a lot greater publicity than it presently gets.