In 2012, the Government under Minister for Justice, Alan Shatter brought forward a Bill known as the Criminal Justice (Spent Convictions) Bill. Its purpose was to “drag” Ireland into line and compliance with its International Human Rights Law obligations and effectively put a time-limit on the duty to disclose a criminal record. In effect, to recognise that old criminal convictions of a certain nature must be seen as spent convictions. Not to do so would bring Ireland into conflict with its obligations under its European Convention on Human Rights to the effect that any duty to disclose criminal convictions must be relevant and proportionate.

In March 2014 an “Administrative Filter” was introduced for Garda Vetting Disclosures which provided that certain minor offences over 7 years old need no longer be disclosed. This applied to all convictions received in District Court for motoring offences and certain public order offences plus one conviction where the person has committed one such offence. It does not apply to assault type offences against a person or to Sexual Offences.

At the moment, it would appear that this is going to form the basis for the Criminal Justice (Spent Convictions) Act. Professor Michael O’Flaherty, Chairman of the Irish Prison Reform Trust in the Irish Times on the 6th July 2015 points out that this legislation if enacted would benefit car owners with multiple speeding convictions, “…an offence which presents immediate and serious danger to others. It will not benefit someone who has two shoplifting convictions no matter how long ago those crimes were committed or under what personal circumstances. If it is accepted that road traffic offenders can change their behaviour, why should this not apply equally to other categories of offenders?”

Professor Flaherty goes on to point out that the Rehabilitation of Offenders (NI) Order of 1978 has been in place for more than 35 years and is a much more complex and fairer document which provides for rehabilitation periods of between 6 months and 10 years linked proportionately with the nature of the sanction imposed for the particular offence and covers all those who receives sentences of 30 months or less.

Eamonn Fleming