Anti-social behaviour by children
Part 13 of the Criminal Justice Act 2006 introduced provisions within the criminal law for dealing with anti-social behaviour by children who are between 12-18 years of age. The provisions became law on 1 March 2007. These powers allow the Gardaí to deal with such anti-social behaviour in a number of ways including:
- Issuing anti-social behaviour warnings to children
- Convening meetings to discuss a child’s anti-social behaviour
- Requesting a child and his/her parents or guardian to enter into a good behaviour contract and
- Applying to the courts for an anti-social behaviour order in respect of a child (commonly known as an ASBO)
All of these provisions are designed to allow the Gardaí to deal effectively with anti-social behaviour while keeping the child out of the criminal justice system.
It has long been accepted that certain behaviour by children causes significant alarm, distress, fear or intimidation to certain members of society. It is also however acknowledged that this type of behaviour does not warrant the use of the criminal courts to prevent it. The intention of the provisions is to strike a balance between protecting the rights of society while dealing with this anti-social behaviour by children.
What is anti-social behaviour?
A child behaves in an anti-social manner if he/she causes or, in the circumstances, is likly to cause to one or more people who are not living in the same house as the child:
- Harassment or
- Significant or persistent alarm, distress, fear or intimidation or
- Significant or persistent impairment of their use or enjoyment of their property
So, for example, if a child or children were constantly playing football outside your house and this was causing you discomfort or annoyance, this would amount to significant or persistent impairment of your use or enjoyment of your home. This therefore amounts to anti-social behaviour.
Similarly, if groups of children were regularly gathering in a laneway where you frequently passed and their presence in the laneway or their behaviour was causing you alarm, distress, or fear, then that would amount to anti-social behaviour and you could seek the assistance of the Gardaí who could then deal with the anti-social behaviour by the children.
What is an anti-social behaviour warning?
A garda can issue an anti-social behaviour warning to any child who has behaved in an anti-social manner.
The behaviour warning may be issued verbally by the garda to the child and it must also be served on the child and his/her parents or guardian in writing. The written notice must include the following:
- A statement that the child has behaved in an anti-social manner
- The type of behaviour and when and where it took place
- A demand that the child cease the behaviour
- A notice that failure to comply with a demand to cease the behaviour may result in an application being made to the court for a behaviour order
The behaviour warning must be issued by the Gardaí within one month of the time that the behaviour took place. In the case of persistent behaviour, the warning must be issued within one month of the most recent known instance of that behaviour taking place.
A behaviour warning will remain in force against a child for 3 months from the date it is issued. If the child persists in the type of behaviour specifed in the behaviour warning during the 3 months, an application may be made to the court for a behaviour order.
When is a meeting convened to discuss a child's anti-social behaviour?
If a Garda has issued a behaviour warning to a child he can make a report to the superintendent in charge of the district outlining to the superintendent his concerns about the child’s behaviour. The superintendent convenes a meeting to discuss that child’s behaviour if the superintendent is satisfied that:
- The child has behaved in an anti-social manner and is likely to continue doing so, and
- The child has previously behaved in an anti-social manner but has not received a warning in respect of that previous behaviour or holding a meeting would help to prevent further such anti-social behaviour by the child
Who attends such a meeting?
The superintendent asks the following people to attend the meeting to discuss the child’s behaviour
- The child
- The child’s parents or guardian
- The garda who issued the anti-social behaviour warning to the child
- If the child is already involved in the Juvenile Diversion Programme, a Juvenile Liaison Officer
- Any other person(s) it is considered would be of assistance to the child or the child’s parents or guardian
At the meeting, the superintendent explains to the child and the parents or guardian in simple language what the offending behaviour is, and the effect it is having on anyone else.
The child is asked to acknowledge that the behaviour took place and to undertake to stop it. The parents or guardian are also asked to acknowledge the child’s behaviour and to undertake to take steps to prevent the behaviour from continuing.
If the child and the parents or guardian agree to give these undertakings, the superintendent prepares a document known as a good behaviour contract.
What is a good behaviour contract?
A good behaviour contract sets down in writing the undertakings or promises given by the child and parents or guardian at the meeting convened to discuss the child's behaviour. It is signed by both the child and the parents or guardian.
The good behaviour contract remains in force for a maximum period of 6 months from the date of the meeting but it may be extended for a further 3 months at the request of the child and the parents or guardian.
What happens if a child breaks the agreement in the good behaviour contract?
If a child has behaved or continues to behave in breach of the undertakings in the contract the superintendent may request another meeting to renew the contract if the child and parents or guardian agree to do so. If, however, the superintendent does not believe that another meeting would help to prevent anti-social behaviour by the child concerned, the superintendent may either
- Recommend that the child be admitted to the Juvenile Diversion Programme or
- If satisfied that the child’s participation in the Juvenile Diversion Programme would not be appropriate, apply to the Children Court for a behaviour order in respect of the child.
The superintendent also has these two options available to them if the child or the parents or guardian refuse at the first meeting to sign a good behaviour contract or indeed if the superintendent decides at the start, that the calling of a meeting wouldn’t help prevent anti-social behaviour by the child concerned.
What is a behaviour order?
An anti-social behaviour order or ASBO is issued by the Children Court when a member of the Garda Siochána (not below the rank of superintendent) applies to the court for an order which prohibits a child of 12 years or above from doing anything specified in the order.
Before the Court makes such a behaviour order it must be satisfied that:
- Even though the child has signed the good behaviour contract or participated in the meeting with the Gardaí , the child has continued and is likely to continue to behave in an anti-social way
- An order is necessary to prevent the child from continuing to behave in that way
- Having regard to the effect or likely effect of that behaviour on other people, the order is reasonable in the circumstances
It is open to the court to impose whatever terms or conditions it considers appropriate in the order.
So, for example, the court might include a condition that the child must not come within 50 metres of a certain house where he/she had been causing annoyance or it may order the child to stay away from a certain shopping centre.
The court may also require the child to comply with certain requirements relating to attending school or, indeed, reporting to a garda, teacher or other person in authority.
How long does a behaviour order last?
A behaviour order issued by the Children Court stays in place against a child for a maximum of two years from the date of the order. The court has the authority, however, to vary or discharge the order if an application to do so is made by either the child concerned, his/her parents or guardian, or by a member of the Gardaí not below the rank of superintendent.
Can a child appeal against a behaviour order?
Yes, a child against whom a behaviour order has been made can, within 21 days from the date the order was made, appeal against the order to the Circuit Court. If the child or the parents or guardian intend to appeal the order they must give notice of the appeal to the superintendent in charge of the district in which the child resides.
Are there any offences relating to behaviour warnings?
When a garda decides to issue a behaviour warning to a child the garda may require the child to give the child's name and address to the garda for the purpose of the behaviour warning or the written record of it. If the child fails to give a name and address or gives a name and address that is false or misleading then that child commits an offence and will be liable on summary conviction (Children Court) to a class E fine.
Are there any offences relating to behaviour orders?
If a behaviour order has been made against a child by the Children’s Court and that child, without reasonable excuse does not comply with the behaviour order, that child is guilty of an offence and is liable on summary conviction (Children Court) to a class D fine or detention in a children’s detention school for a period not exceeding 3 months, or both.
If a child is ordered to pay a fine and the costs of the proceedings upon conviction for a breach of a behaviour order, the total of the fine and the costs must not exceed €1,500.
Can a child be granted free legal aid in respect of an application to the court for a behaviour order?
Yes, if a child is the subject of a Garda application for a behaviour order, the child may be granted a certificate for free legal aid which is known as a Legal Aid (Behaviour Order) Certificate. This legal aid will also be available to the child if he/she decides to appeal against the making of the order.
If a child is subject of an application to the Children Court and is not eligible for free legal aid, then the cost of any legal representation on behalf of the child must be paid for by the child, the child’s parents or guardian.
Similarly, while there is no cost attached to an appeal to the Circuit Court against the making of the order, any legal representation on behalf of the child in that appeal will have to be paid for by the child, the child’s parents or guardian unless the child qualifies for free legal aid.
If you are affected by anti-social behaviour you should contact your local Garda station. You should supply as much information as possible about the behaviour. You can find the contact details of your local Garda station here.