Home Law International Handbook of Juvenile Justice
COURTS AND JUVENILES
The Children Court has jurisdiction to hear the vast majority of crimes with the exception of murder, manslaughter, rape and/or serious sexual offences which are tried at the Central Criminal Court. Judges have discretion to deal summarily with all other offences in the Children Court or to transfer them to a higher (adult) court. Where a transfer is considered, judges are obliged to take the age and maturity of the child into account. The child’s consent is also required to retain the case in the Children Court. According to the Court Service data on outcomes for child defendants, an average of 115 children (accounting for 3-4 %) were sent forward for trial to a higher court each year between 2009 and 2013 (Courts Service 2009-2013).
There is one designated Children Court based in Dublin city centre. Outside of the city, the Children Court sits in the local District Court building for each area. A number of provisions exist under the 2001 Act to account for the special status of children appearing before the court. These include that children’s cases are held in private, the waiting time for proceedings should be restricted to the minimum required, children should be kept separate from adult defendants and the court should sit at a different time or in a different room or building to other court proceedings. The only personnel permitted to attend children’s court proceedings are officers of the court, parents/guardians and adult relatives of the child, bona fide representatives of the press and those admitted at the discretion of the court. Despite these legal protections, the available evidence suggests that disparities exist between the law in theory and its application in practice. Kilkelly’s (2008) study of the Children Court found evidence of children waiting for excessive periods before their cases were heard in some courts and privacy provisions being breached where members of the public including adult defendants, and police unrelated to the case, were in attendance at proceedings. Furthermore, it was reported that the physical environment and poor acoustics in some courtrooms negatively impacted on children’s opportunities to participate in proceedings (ibid.). This was compounded in cases where limited communication took place between children, judges and their legal representatives. Considerable disparity was identified in relation to judicial practice when communicating with children in the courtroom, ranging from high levels of engagement to very limited, if any, interaction (Kilkelly 2005). The length of time to finalise children’s cases in the juvenile justice system has been highlighted as a matter that impacts on children’s right to an expedient conclusion of proceedings against them. The extent and nature of delays is uncertain in the absence of systematic and up-to- date data however previous research found that 43 % of children made their first court appearance more than 6 months after the offence occurred and incurred an average of eight court appearances in respect of each charge (Carroll and Meehan 2007). Mullan (2014) outlines a number of high court and supreme court cases that highlight the issue of delays in prosecuting children’s cases and the duty of the prosecutorial apparatus to deal with such cases in a more expedient manner than the ‘normal duty of expedition’. The evidence suggests that delays in determining matters for children before the courts have serious repercussions for them. In a study of children on remand in Ireland, Seymour and Butler (2008) found that lengthy delays in processing their cases placed them at greater risk of reoffending, of breaching their bail conditions, and in some cases increased their risk of detention. The time taken to finalise children’s cases has been compounded by the absence of bail support and monitoring initiatives for children progressing through the court system. This gap has been partially addressed with the awarding of a contract for the first ever pilot bail supervision scheme in Ireland for children by the IYJS in April 2016. Another intervention which has provided support to children appearing before the courts is the Garda Youth Crime Case Management (YCCM) initiative. Children identified as prolific offenders are matched with a Garda case manager who is responsible for co-ordinating their charges so that multiple court appearances are avoided. Case managers are also tasked with monitoring children in the community and liaising with families and relevant agencies to provide appropriate interventions (O’Brien 2014).
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