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 equal 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 child’s education to proceed without interruption.
- It is desirable to preserve and strengthen the relationship between children and their parents and 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 live 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.
To view the Children Act 2001, please see here.
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.
This is a special Court for children who are in trouble with the law and who are being charged with a crime. The Children Court is where a Judge listens to both sides about what happened and decides what happens next.
The Children Court is held in the courtrooms where ordinary sittings of the District Court are held, except in Dublin which has a dedicated Children Court. The sittings are held at different times to those for adults who have to come to the District Court.
The Children Court gives special attention to helping children understand what is going on. If the parents or guardian cannot afford to pay a solicitor, the Court can offer legal aid for the child.
Children Detention Schools are designated as remand centres for children. Oberstown is designated as a remand centres for boys and girls under 18 years of age. Statutory Instrument 274/2016, signed by the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Katherine Zappone, T.D., provides the legal basis for this designation. The Statutory Instrument and Certificates outlining maximum numbers, sex and ages of children are viewable here: