The Law on Disclosure Then and Now

By Carol Coulter
Irish Times
May 3, 2012

LAST WEEK Minister for Justice Alan Shatter published the Criminal Justice (Withholding of Information on Offences Against Children and Vulnerable Adults) Bill.

This creates a criminal offence of withholding information in relation to serious offences, including sexual offences, committed against a child or vulnerable person.

The Bill will make it mandatory for a person who has or receives such information to pass it on to the Garda, except in certain limited circumstances, including when the child requests the person not to.

In announcing the Bill the Minister said: “The primary purpose of this Bill is to close an existing loophole in our current law.”

That loophole was the absence of any legal obligation on people to report to gardai the fact that such an offence had been committed, something highlighted in the Ryan and Cloyne reports.

The Offences Against the State (Amendment) Act 1998 did provide for an offence of withholding information in relation to serious offences but specifically excluded sexual offences.

This meant that in 1976 there was no clear law in place that put an obligation on Fr Sean Brady, as he then was, to report to gardai the fact that a crime had been committed against two boys.

Nor was there any obligation on him to report to the civil authorities that other children might be in danger.

The fact that a law covering such an eventuality is now to be enacted does not mean this issue can now be revisited.

Mr Shatter also pointed out last week that under the Constitution such a law could not be made retrospective.

“Following consultation with the Attorney General it was decided it would not be feasible to make it an offence to withhold information, where that information has been received before the Bill was enacted,” he said.








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