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Ireland

Mairead Seymour

THE LEGAL STATUS OF JUVENILES

Welfare is the primary philosophy that underpins juvenile justice in the Republic of Ireland (Ireland) although the system reflects an international trend in embracing a complex mix of influences ranging from children’s rights to justice-based approaches, restorative justice to actuarial justice and from rehabilitation and reintegration to punishment. The Children Act 2001 (hereon in ‘the 2001 Act’) is the main legislation that underpins the system and provides a contemporary framework for the delivery of responses to children in conflict with the law. The ethos of the legislation is strongly grounded in promoting the diversion of children from the justice system at the earliest possible stage, imposing penalties that have the least restrictive impact on children’s legitimate activities and limiting the use of detention as a measure of last resort. The 2001 Act incorporates a number of principles relating to criminal jurisdiction over children across the system. Under the first principle, children charged with offences are entitled to the same rights and freedom before the law as adults, specifically a right to be heard and a right to participate in any court proceedings that affect them. Furthermore, criminal proceedings should not be used solely to provide any assistance or service needed to care for or protect a child. This represents an important departure from previous practice under the 1908 Children Act, where children could be detained for primarily welfare reasons. The second principle states that any penalty imposed on a child for an offence should be the least restrictive and a period of detention should be imposed only as a measure of last resort. Under the third principle, the court may take mitigating factors such as the child’s age and level of maturity into consideration when determining the nature of any penalty

M. Seymour (*)

School of Languages, Law and Social Sciences, Dublin Institute of Technology, Dublin, Ireland

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S.H. Decker, N. Marteache (eds.), International Handbook of Juvenile Justice, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-45090-2_16

imposed, unless the penalty is fixed by law while the fourth principle posits that the penalty imposed on a child for an offence should be no greater (and may be less) than that which an adult would receive for the same offence. Finally, the fifth principle stipulates that measures for dealing with children’s offending should have due regard to the interests of victims.

In addition to the principles, a number of provisions in the legislation also seek to protect children from the negative effects of contact with the juvenile justice system. Reporting, publishing or broadcasting any identifying information about children’s involvement in criminal proceedings is forbidden with some exceptions such as if children are unlawfully at large or it is considered in the public interest to do so. Furthermore, children who commit offences under the age of 18 years are eligible to have their criminal record expunged. Conditions include that a 3-year period has lapsed since the finding of guilt and that no other offences have arisen within the 3-year period. Excluded offences are those that must be tried before the Central Criminal Court such as murder, manslaughter, rape and serious sexual assault. The process is automatic and provides an important mechanism in providing children with a clean record as they transition to adulthood and seek out employment, training and other vocational opportunities.

The background to the juvenile justice system in Ireland is characterised by political neglect of juvenile justice matters for most of the twentieth century until the current legislation (2001 Act) replaced the outdated 1908 Children Act (see Seymour 2006). The pace of reform was slow in the aftermath of the 2001 Act in large part because no specific body existed to co-ordinate the implementation of the legislation until the establishment of the Irish Youth Justice Service (IYJS) in 2006. Governance of the juvenile justice system is executed through the Irish Youth Justice Service (IYJS) which is an executive agency located within the Department of Children and Youth Affairs (DCYA) although responsibility for juvenile justice matters is shared with the Department of Justice and Equality (DJE).[1] Previously, responsibility for juvenile justice was divided across three government departments of education, health and justice. The 2001 Act as amended under the Criminal Justice Act 2006 was finally enacted in March 2007. In the years that followed, the economic fortunes of the Irish state reversed dramatically from the prosperous early years of the twenty-first century to a severely depressed economy on the verge of economic collapse. The result was a substantial curtailment on funding to drive forward the changes proposed under the 2001 Act. Most noteworthy was the postponement of plans to construct a modern national detention facility to end the practice of detaining children within the adult prison system. As discussed later in this chapter, it was not until the end of 2013 that construction of this facility commenced as Ireland gradually shifted towards economic recovery.

  • [1] The DCYA has responsibility for the childcare elements of the Children Act 2001 and for the newNational Children Detention Centre. The DJE has responsibility for crime prevention, criminalproceedings and diversionary interventions as well as engagement with key criminal justice agencies such as the police (An Garda Siochana), the Probation Service and the Prison Service.
 
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