The Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence, Mr. Alan Shatter, T.D., announced that the Criminal Justice (Withholding of Information on Offences Against Children and Vulnerable Persons) Bill 2012 has, today, been passed by the Houses of the Oireachtas.
In announcing the passing of this legislation, Minister Shatter said "I am delighted that this piece of legislation will shortly enter into force and that it does so with the widespread backing of both Houses of the Oireachtas. I must emphasise that it is the responsibility of every member of society to protect and defend the vulnerable from the most serious and heinous of crimes. No longer will it be acceptable that secrecy or ignorance, on the part of those with knowledge of criminal offences, can protect those who perpetrate such crimes. There is a duty on all of us to provide information to the Garda Síochána where that information concerns serious offences committed against the vulnerable of our society. This Bill is one step on the path to ensure that those well-known failures of the past are not repeated."
The Bill creates an offence of withholding information on serious offences where those offences are committed against a child or a vulnerable adult. Serious offences are offences which carry a penalty of imprisonment for 5 years or more. They include most sexual offences and offences such as assault causing harm, abduction, manslaughter or murder.
The Bill replicates a similar offence which exists in Irish law under the Offences Against the State (Amendment) Act 1998. However, that Act specifically excludes sexual offences from those offences for which there is an obligation to disclose information. This Bill addresses this gap, insofar as it applies to children and vulnerable persons, by expressly including sexual offences in the list of serious offences for which it will be an offence to withhold information.
This Bill fulfils one of the legislative commitments made by this Government to strengthen child protection. The Bill will complement both the Children First Bill and the National Vetting Bill. The latter is expected to be published shortly.
The Criminal Justice (Withholding of Information on Offences Against Children and Vulnerable Persons) Bill 2012 will now be presented to the President for his signature. It is expected that the Act will enter into force in early August.
Notes for Editors
The Criminal Justice (Withholding Information on Offences Against Children and Vulnerable Adults) Bill 2012 creates the offences of failing to disclose, without reasonable excuse, information relating to certain serious criminal offences where that offence is committed against a child (section 2) or a vulnerable person (section 3).
A child or vulnerable person who is a victim of a serious offence shall not be liable for an offence under the Bill. The Bill is addressed to all other members of society, subject to the defences set out in the Bill and any other rights and privilege which exist under law.
Section 4 sets out the defences under the Bill. However, it is important to note that nothing in the Bill will impede any victim (or any other person) at any time going to the Gardaí to report an offence. The defences in the Bill solely relate to circumstances where the victim chooses not to do this, or does not have the capacity to do so.
Under the Bill, it is a defence for a person who, at the request of the victim, does not report an offence.
The Bill also accommodates those situations where the victim does not have the capacity either to report the offence or to make a decision as to whether they want another person to report it on their behalf. In such circumstances, the Bill provides that where the victim does not have the capacity to form a view as to whether the commission of the offence should be disclosed to the Gardaí, and the offender is not a family member, then the parent or guardian can make known, on behalf of the victim, that the victim does not want the offence to be reported to the Gardaí. However, the parent or guardian must have reasonable grounds for acting on behalf of the child or vulnerable person and must show that in so doing, they are acting in the best interest of and with regard to the wishes of that child or vulnerable person.
A healthcare professional who is providing services to a child or vulnerable person in respect of the harm or injury caused by the offence may make it known that, in his or view, the information relating to that offence should not be disclosed, provided that he or she can show that they are acting in the best interests of the health and well-being of that person.
A defence will also apply to prescribed persons providing support services to victims. It is important that supports to a victim are not compromised, or victims deterred from seeking such support, by creating an immediate obligation on such services to report the offence.
The Schedules to the Bill set out the offences relating to which information must be disclosed to the Garda Síochána.
12 July 2012