Background to Youth Justice Reforms
In December 2005, following a report on the youth justice system, the Government agreed a programme to implement youth justice reforms including changes to legislation and the setting up of the Irish Youth Justice Service.
The Report on the Youth Justice Review looked at national and international practice, and made a number of recommendations for organisational change. Important findings and recommendations included:
- The need for coordinated strategic leadership and youth justice policy.
- The implementation of the provisions of the Children Act 2001 in relation to community sanctions, restorative justice conferencing and diversion projects.
- The transfer of responsibility of residential industrial and reformatory schools (now called children detention schools) to the Irish Youth Justice Service from the Department of Education and Science.
For more information on the Report on the Youth Justice Review click here.
The Children Act 2001
The main legislation covering children and the criminal justice system is the Children Act 2001. This Act focuses on preventing criminal behaviour, diversion from the criminal justice system and rehabilitation. The use of detention for a child is to be a last resort: the Act requires that all avenues be explored before it is used.
The main principles of the Children Act are:
- Any child who accepts responsibility for his/ her offending behaviour should be diverted from criminal proceedings, where appropriate.
- Children have rights and freedoms before the law equal to those enjoyed by adults and a right to be heard and to participate in any proceedings affecting them.
- It is desirable to allow the education etc. of children to proceed without interruption.
- It is desirable to preserve and strengthen the relationship between children and their parents/ family members.
- It is desirable to foster the ability of families to develop their own means of dealing with offending by their children.
- It is desirable to allow children to reside in their own homes.
- Any penalty imposed on a child should cause as little interference as possible with the child’s legitimate activities, should promote the development of the child and should take the least restrictive form, as appropriate.
- Detention should be imposed as a last resort and may only be imposed if it is the only suitable way of dealing with the child.
- Due regard to the interests of the victim.
- A child’s age and level of maturity may be taken into consideration as mitigating factors in determining a penalty.
- A child’s privacy should be protected in any proceedings against him/ her.
The full version of the Children Act 2001 is available on the Oireachtas website. Click here.
Age of Criminal Responsibility
On 16 October 2006, under the Children Act 2001, the age of criminal responsibility was effectively raised from 7 to 12 years. Under the new provisions, no child under the age of 12 years can be charged with an offence. An exception is made for 10 and 11 year-olds charged with very serious offences, such as unlawful killing, a rape offence or aggravated sexual assault. In addition, the Director of Public Prosecutions must give consent for any child under the age of 14 years to be charged.