Part of Executive Committee Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 11:30 am on 22nd March 2022.
Members will be aware that provisions for the new domestic abuse offence and its associated aggravators in the Domestic Abuse and Civil Proceedings Act (Northern Ireland) 2021 came into operation on 21 February 2022. The purpose of the statutory rule is to enable the new domestic abuse offence, convictions of the domestic abuse offence with a child aggravator and current convictions for all other offences for which there is a domestic abuse aggravator to be disclosed as part of the Access NI disclosure process.
As Members may be aware, Access NI discloses information held on a criminal record, particularly about individuals who seek to work with children and vulnerable adults, as part of enhanced checks. However, after certain periods elapse, Access NI will not disclose old and minor offences — non-specified offences — from that record. That is known as filtering. Access NI does not apply those periods to the more serious offences listed in section 113A(6D) of the Police Act 1997. Such offences are known as specified offences, and they are always disclosed on Access NI standard or enhanced certificates.
The order will add convictions of the domestic abuse offence, including where aggravated, to that list. All offences not listed in section 113A(6D) are deemed to be non-specified offences. The order will add convictions of any other offence aggravated by domestic abuse to the list of non-specified offences.
Section 113A of the Police Act 1997 requires a criminal record certificate to be issued for any individual who makes an application and is 16 years old or over at the time of the application, except in prescribed circumstances. The criminal record certificate must give the prescribed details of every relevant matter relating to the applicant.
Section 113A(6D) lists offences that are to be considered as relevant matters. The draft order explicitly adds convictions of the domestic abuse offence and convictions of the domestic abuse offence aggravated by the child aggravators to the list of specified offences at section 113A(6D). Convictions of offences other than the domestic abuse offence and specified offences that are aggravated by domestic abuse would also be included in the list of relevant matters and would be disclosable as part of an Access NI application check.
In both instances, it is considered that reference to the child and domestic abuse aggravators would be covered by the term "conviction" and could be disclosed. That is on the basis that the aggravator is an integral part of a conviction and that the information could therefore be disclosed.
For the avoidance of any doubt, however, explicit inclusion is being made for that. Through those provisions, convictions for the domestic abuse offence and its associated aggravators will always be disclosed on a standard or enhanced Access NI certificate. Without that, the domestic abuse offence would not be disclosed on a standard or enhanced Access NI check after a period of 11 years from conviction. A period of six years typically applies for an adult non-court disposal, and shorter periods apply to those under 18. Given the potential seriousness of the domestic abuse offence, particularly where there is a child aggravator and the potential to be sentenced for up to 14 years, it is considered essential that convictions for the domestic abuse offence, whether aggravated or not, are always disclosed.
Those shorter time periods for disclosure of up to 11 years from conviction will apply to other offences where those are aggravated by domestic abuse, in line with current provisions. Provision is also made for the disclosure of non-court disposals for the domestic abuse offence on standard and enhanced applications. If the order is approved today, it is intended that it will be operational from tomorrow, 23 March. I commend the motion to the House.